Keshav was in high spirits… He had literally finished his day’s work in marathon speed just to get back to spend time with Avanti. Never before had he wanted to rush back home from work, for the simple reason…there was no one waiting for him. Even when he was a kid, except in the initial couple of years there was no parent or grandparent but the appointed uninterested nannies who waited for Kamya and him to return from school… not out of love but because they had to finish their enlisted chores for the day which included feeding an unrelenting little Kamya who wanted her mother and an extra obedient Keshav. His only fear was the then current nanny would leave and his father would throw a drunken fret around the house or bring a new ‘aunty’ along with him, resulting in his mother getting further depressed than she already was. He had no good memories with his parents…no birthday celebrations, no picnics, outings, no family dinners…nothing at all. His mother barely spoke to him in the seven years of his life that he had seen her and even today he vividly recollected the day when he had found her…
Keshav rubbed his fatigued face as he remembered as a seven-year-old, entering their huge house only to see a little Kamya still in her nursery class uniform, sleeping peacefully on the living room couch. A look at her messed up hair and reddened face and he knew she had cried herself to sleep probably not had anything to eat. The house was quiet indicating the current nanny hadn’t yet come for the day or had left early or even worse, left the job. But something about the silence hadn’t felt right…Usually during silence claiming their home, he always felt the reassurance of his mother’s presence at home, irrespective of the fact that she was oblivious to Kamya and him. But that day he could feel it…something was amiss…his seven-year-old brain could only fathom that bit and nothing beyond that. He had seen his school friends with their mothers for different events in school and had wished for his mom to be there as well. But neither of his parents ever showed up for anything at all and the heavy donation from his father had sealed the lips of the school authorities who tolerated him for the booty he got in and of course he was a no-trouble kid scoring good grades. He did however, occasionally hear some of the teachers talk about him being privileged and something about his parents thinking it was below their dignity to visit his school… if only they knew what he had to go through…
That day, little Keshav had climbed upstairs and walked towards his mother’s bedroom on trembling legs and as if on autopilot had clicked open the latch… the door was never locked. And it was then he had seen her… Mrs. Mandakini Goyal… who at one time was nicknamed Moon Moon Goyal because of her resemblance to the beautiful actress Moon Moon Sen… but that was before depression had reduced her to a dark shell of her former self. Little Keshav had moved tentatively towards his mother’s sleeping form…why was she lying awkwardly and without covering herself with her blanket…? He had shivered partly because of the AC blasting and partly because of something his young mind had anticipated…He had tried to shake his mother asking her to wake up. He needed help with Kamya and there was no one else… but her body was cold just like her usual responses but this time he was chilled to the core…. Because he saw a few empty bottles lying on the bed with the caps unscrewed. Something was terribly wrong… he had rushed to the drawing room and used the landline to call his father’s office…one of the only two numbers he knew but there had been no answer as usual and then he had dialled the other number, Rama Kulsreshtra, Sahil’s mom and his mother’s best friend from school. The next few hours had been wiped out from his memory, probably because he and Kamya were rushed to Sahil’s home and he had returned back in a couple of days only to see the gathering of people in a sea of white cotton seated before a garlanded portrait of his mother. He had rushed inside and yelled lying on the floor…for a glimpse of his mother even as Rama aunty had tried to hold him back… that was the last time he had ever thrown a tantrum….
Now years later, as he moved around his empty house those haunting memories returned with a vengeance… He had known the moment he had stepped in Avanti was not at home. Where was she…? Keshav looked for her in every room as well as the terrace garden…the fifth-floor exclusive house had never felt so huge before….and empty. Had she gone shopping or for a stroll? But it was almost 8PM now and it was unlike Avanti to stay out late without informing him and this time she had his number memorised in case she faced trouble like she did a day after their wedding. But he had been repeatedly checking his phone for the last couple of hours and there was no text or a missed call…
He had been calling her but her fucking phone was out of coverage area… where had she gone? He had a busy day at work with the PI he had hired through Akshat for investigating Dnyaneshwar Rane’s plane crash having come up with some information. The mole he had set up in the company to get insider information too had come up with information and their meeting behind closed doors had taken hours considering his voice which he couldn’t tax beyond a certain level. He had a lot of work to do now besides working on the impending research… the blossoms in the green house had sprouted buds and he had been excited about that as well…. Overall, he was terribly exhausted and his throat pain was a bitch. He had stressful weeks before their wedding as well after Dnyaneshwar Rane had passed but meeting Avanti in lieu of his so-called courtship period with Arpita, and talking to her had helped him immensely. Something about Avanti worked wonders for him…it was as if she was the antidote to the poison seeping its way inside his body. And now he was restless… his pretty and tenacious wife had him by the invisible strings she pulled.
He chuckled as he continued to look for her and just then he got a text. It was from the guy assigned by Akshat to keep an eye on Avanti in case she had to go out…oh how could he forget the man? Shaking his head, he read the text and his heart skipped a beat. There was a photo of Avanti hugging Rahul in some secluded place and she appeared to be crying while Rahul held her…the slimy bastard…was missing from work and under suspicion for fraud and here he was flirting with… his wife. His blood boiled and he caught hold of a nearby glass and smashed it on to the floor and it was then he heard the door lock click open as Avanti entered. Immediately his rage was replaced by a sense of relief to see her safe back home. There was a lot he had to ask her, but looking at her condition his words died in his throat. She looked fragile, her minimal makeup smudged over her face, the noodle like hair strands messing around her crown as they had escaped the clutch that had held them. Her eyes swollen from crying as she strutted towards where he stood. “Avanti… are you alright…? Where were you…? I was worried…?” Every word uttered was an additional effort.
She starred at him with a blank expression as if seeing him for the first time. Did she have a doubt about his condition already…? His heart raced in panic… no there was no way she could have found out. No one knew it except for Kamya, his doctor and select others in his circles involved in the research and they were all sworn to secrecy. He saw Avanti look away as fresh tears made their way in her eyes and his chest clenched… what was it with her and Rahul. As far as he knew he was just a ‘friend’…. Was there more…? Was she in love with the guy and now stuck in a marriage with him…? His heart fell. It was then she looked down at the shattered glass and then up at him. “…Uh…I am sorry Avanti…I was upset… You go to your room carefully and freshen up…we can then have dinner…”
“…I…. I am not… hungry… I want to rest… tired…” She replied in voice cracking even a despair filled him further. As she walked into her room and shut the door, he stood rooted at his spot wondering what had gone wrong. The answer was clear…just about everything. Right form the time he had fallen for her while being engaged to her sister, to the forced marriage…just about everything. Why hadn’t she spoken up then… he had no clue about her having a boyfriend. The way she had always reacted to him… he couldn’t have been wrong. Most of all she was a good friend and God knew he rarely had any. For the sake of her safety and his own sanity he couldn’t reveal anything to her… the lesser she knew the better it was for her. Letting her go wasn’t an option for a lot of reasons most importantly…he couldn’t bear the thought of her gone. Besides given the findings he had received; her safety was of utmost importance and hence he had no option now but to keep her close to him to keep an eye on her.
He had to clear the air… about Rahul… they had it in the contract that they would remain faithful. Avanti wasn’t a fool to sway to peoples tunes or lose her sanity to act recklessly. He had to speak to her…make things normal as they were for last two days. She had taken care of him and for the first time in his life he had been fussed over. No one had ever don’t that for him before. He had always looked out for others, shouldered responsibilities for a long time now but for once he had depended on someone else… he didn’t want his holiday period to end. Watching her sleep on Dnyaneshwar Rane’s rocking chair in her room was a treat. He would pretend he was asleep so she would sleep too… she had tirelessly worked to nurse him to health. He had almost kissed her when she had tucked him in before leaving for her room late in the night. The insomniac idiot in him had revelled in her touch every time she got close to him thinking he was fast asleep. Her aloe vera fragrance from the talc she used was now synonymous with her. He had often caught her staring at him with worry in her eyes in those two days… again a first for him. Finally, there was someone for him…no…NO…NO…she couldn’t be having an affair with Rahul and behave like the way she did with him. She was innocent and a simple woman unlike her sister or the many women he came across to date during his modelling days or at corporate parties he attended to network. He was no saint but whenever he dated anyone, he stayed loyal for the duration he did. None of them lasted beyond a month or so and he knew it was he who drove them away. He didn’t want to get close to any woman before because of the baggage e carried and he couldn’t involve anyone in the mess. But with Avanti it was different… she was different. She genuinely cared just like her father Dnyaneshwar Rane…. And he had become selfish…
He carried some food for her in a plate and knocked at her door. “Avanti… please have something. I know you haven’t had lunch either…. Please open the door…”
There was no response and as he was about to turn back, she opened the door. She looked like an angelic beauty with red rimmed eyes… She had just cried again. He walked inside and placed the plate on the table and turned towards her. “…What is it Avanti… why are you so upset…?” He started to cough…the irritation in the throat was returning with a vengeance. Maybe because he wasn’t healed completely or maybe because….
Avanti’s eyes widened and she immediately rushed outside coming back with a box he recognised as the kit the hospital people had given him before discharge. She took the glass of water he had brought for her with her dinner plate and picked up a tablet for him. “…here take this…your voice is getting affected again… this will help you and… stop talking now… it will get worse…”
He nodded, touched with her gesture… she cared even though she was in a foul mood. “…Avanti… I am getting worried here… please tell me what happened…” he said hoarsely.
“…Nothing… nothing to worry Keshav… I am just tired that’s all…”
“…Avanti… what did Rahul say or do that ruined your mood…?” he coughed as he spoke… but he had no choice now but to get to the point.
She looked shocked and wide eyed at him. “…how… did you…know…?”
He took out his mobile phone and showed her the picture. “…Avanti that place is secluded… what were you doing there… it… would …have been…dangerous…” he coughed again and this time it was so painful his eyes watered and he bent over holding the table breathing heavily. God this was bad… if he could lay his hands on the asshole who did this, he would choke him and hurt him right there… the pain was torturous and he usually had a high pain threshold. He felt her soft hands rubbing his back as she pulled him to make him sit on the bed.
“…Shhh… Keep quiet Keshav… don’t you understand… you are damaging your voice… And how did you get this picture… were you getting me trailed…?” She then looked up at him with a pained expression. “…No…leave it don’t say anything… I should have known. I felt someone was watching…. but didn’t think it would be… I mean…you getting it done…” She was about to walk away when he grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him.
“…I… I am done with the charade Avanti…” he panted as the pain pierced his neck making each syllable emerge with excruciating difficulty. “…I had…told you… we have to remain faithful… till the time…we are… it’s in our contract…” He coughed even as he let go of her and she held a glass of water for him, tears flowing from her eyes now… That was a kick in the gut for him. He had to control his anger but somehow all his attempts were proved futile. He panted further as the bout of cough passed and said. “…why…why… did you… meet…him… Is he…spe…special to you… we are just… married for… God’s sake…?” His voice was now barely heard as pain engulfed him and he bent forward on his knees to control the cough.
“…THAT’S ENOUGH…” She screamed. “…Why are you doing this to us Keshav…? You are ruining your health further… and you got me followed…? What the hell…? You have the audacity to doubt me…? It’s you who has been harbouring God knows what within and you expect me to just be a spectator…? Keshav…it’s my baba’s company we are talking about… my legacy… which baba always wanted me to have….” He opened his mouth to refute but she held up her hand. “…No… you have spoken enough… just listen to me now… I may have given you the rights to the company… but I have a right to know what’s going on… I know it’s going through a major crisis and I want to help… I may not have the qualification but I deserve to know what’s happening…So you will now on…tell me everything… however bad it is…Is that clear…?” She was panting by the end of her tirade.
His temper was rising. That dimwit friend of hers must have brainwashed her. “…The fuck I will… I am… not answerable… to you… not your teacher… I have other… important things… you are… free to… visit… the company… and check… what you want… with that boyfriend of yours…” He spoke in a voice barely audible as he struggled to talk…his eyes were watering with pain clutching his neck muscles.
“…You are crossing the limits Keshav… mind your language…” She looked angry and he hadn’t seen her like that before. But the photo he was sent kept flashing before his eyes.
“…I have not… done anything… as yet Aavnti… if you… continue to… see that boyfriend of yours…”
“…RAHUL IS NOT MY BOYFRIEND GODDAMN IT…” Avanti screamed and there was a pin drop silence in the room, the only audible sound was that of the fan circling above and their labored breaths. Had he gone too far? but he couldn’t hold it in any longer…the volcanic burst of his molten rage was threatening a powerful exit and he had to rein it in before it burnt both of them in it’s fury…
Keshav continued to show her the picture again but didn’t say anything.
“…Keshav I am not answerable to you as well…because I have done nothing wrong… I…I Rahul is my best friend from school…that’s it…”
Keshav stared at her, his temper rising once again and even he couldn’t pin point the exact reason… whether it was jealousy or an inner fear that she would leave him…earlier. Or that he couldn’t speak at all his anger further choking his bruised throat.
“…Keshav…” She wailed now. “…Just stop it… I am not able to take it any more…. Just leave…”
He didn’t move and held his phone again in front of her eyes. Couldn’t she understand he was miserable as hell…? Why was she doing this to him…?
“…Oh goodness… Keshav…Rahul is just my best friend… I don’t have any romantic feelings for him and even if I did it would have been of no use… Rahul is gay… do you get that He is Gay and lives with his partner Anuj who is a stage artist and away on a gig…. They have been there for me every time I was low… that won’t change, did you get me…? I am not going to stop meeting my friends just because you don’t like it… YOU are the one who bullied me into this marriage… and I am in it… just to save Vedshastra… So… what you do is none of my business and so far as I keep the terms in the contract… what I do and whom I meet is none of your damn business…” She halted her tirade panting to take breaths.
“…I have… given up… a lot Avanti… I was… supposed to… be married… to your sister…had certain ideas…” He whispered hard as he wheezes through his utterance. He didn’t know how else to cover up for his misunderstood jealousy laden accusations.
“…Keshav… you were at least prepared to get married… I didn’t even know I was to get tied up in this union and… my life changed in a fraction of a second…” she snapped her fingers. “… just like that… I too have given up everything… only to save my family and company… I…I just resigned from my school…” She wailed. “…so, don’t you accuse me of something horrendous… I think I have been doing my duty as a wife pretty well so far and will adhere by the contract in future too… But learn to trust me Keshav… otherwise it would be difficult to survive under the same roof…”
That took the air under his sails as the feeling of defeat seeped into his soul. He had suspected her for nothing… but the very fact that she needed Rahul when he was right here for her, was something he found it difficult to accept. He thought their relationship was something special… maybe that was just a mirage in his profound desert. He nodded as he patted her head and walked out of the room. He was stuck in the quick sand and she was the only fragile thread of hope he had in his life. He hoped he hadn’t just severed that very thread by his outburst…
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