Ria banged the folder on the table the sound resonating within the tiny walls of her room which she shared with another young woman in the working woman’s hostel. It was the best she could get given that she could barely make ends meet let alone paying the rent. Preeti had helped out and paid for two months though she had resisted and then eventually given in as she desperately needed a place to stay. That was a fortnight ago and by now she had worn her heels out trying different hospitals and private clinics in and around the area she now stayed, for jobs. Unfortunately, three months may have passed but the negative publicity the news had brought for the Chopra group of hospitals had reached the other hospital HR before she did and she wasn’t getting in… It was frustrating because she desperately needed work. The little money she had left with her was finishing soon and she had to do something fast. She couldn’t venture far because she couldn’t afford the travel… she was in a fix… It was 6PM and she had spent the whole day scouting four different clinics in her list…none of them had vacancies or needed a counsellor.
As she sat contemplating her next move… desperation sinking her heart, her phone buzzed. She had switched on her old number and had blocked her parents and other members from the housing colony whose numbers she had and she was extremely cautious whose calls she answered if the number wasn’t stored. She had waned a clean break and after ages, in spite of her dire situation she had some sort of mental peace.
“Hey Preeti…” She answered the call
“…Ria… are you close to a TV or something…?”
“…No… why… what is it…? Actually, the wifi here is pathetic too and my data is…well… but what is the matter…?” her heart was thudding rapidly as she awaited Preeti’s response.
“…Ria… just come downstairs…I am getting close… will be there in five…” and she disconnected even before Ria could speak. What the hell had happened? Ria wasn’t sure she could take anymore turbulence… she was tired…in every sense of the word. She kept her stuff in the little rickety cupboard allotted to her and locked it… not that she had anything valuable but still, it gave her a sense of security.
She reached downstairs rushing only to stumble on the last steps and saw Preeti just alighting from her car at the gate. She waved to Ria and watching tension written on her friend’s beautiful face, Ria was getting jittery. Preeti rushed towards her and holding her hands dragged her along outside the gate. Panting, she opened her Tablet and played a video what Ria realised was a recording of a recent news bulletin.
“…Preeti what…?” She was inquisitive as she saw it was taking a while to stream
“…Shhh… just hear this…”
The video played and Ria was glad Preeti was with her.
‘…In a development of sorts the fresh news coming in is an unfortunate turn of events related to the recent case of State vs Gaurav Chopra. The prime accused Ms. Swara Sawant has been found dead in her cell where she was housed as an under trail…’ Ria gasped and held her chest as her breathing became laboured. Oh God. ‘…today morning, Ms. Sawant was found lying in a pool of blood from a severed vein in her wrist and a sharp object suspected to be a broken piece of a glass bottle was also found lying next to her. The initial investigation conducted by the local police in coordination with the jail authority indicate suicide and there is no evidence of foul play. According to the jailor, Ms. Sawant had been quiet and kept to herself ever since she was brought in. It’s is suspected that Ms. Sawant was suffering from depression. The body has been sent for post-mortem after which it will be cremated by the prison authorities since Ms. Sawant had no living relatives and so far, no one has come forward to claim the body….’ In spite of what Swara had done Ria couldn’t help but cry for the life snuffed out of a young woman. The anchor continued. ‘… To those who are new to this, about three months back the scion of the Chopra Group was charged for rape of Ms. Swara Sawant who was then, an employee of the hospital. The circumstantial evidences were tight and Dr. Gaurav Chopra was almost done in when another employee Ms. Ria Narsimhan testified in his favour about him being present with her the entire night of the alleged rape. That proved to be a major twist in the case and tilted the judgement in the Chopra scion’s favour. In what was touted as the shortest trial in the history of fast track courts, Dr. Chopra was acquitted after Ms. Sawant had admitted to her felony. There have been speculations since… if Dr. Chopra indeed had orchestrated everything to cover up an clandestine affair as Ms. Sawant had claimed and also if Ms. Narsimhan was party to the entourage of suspected lies. However, there has been no proof to corroborate the same and the case was a dead end. Now with Ms. Sawant’s death it remains to be seen if there is any indication of foul play… all our attempts to contact Dr. Gaurav Chopra have been futile and Ms. Narsimhan after whose testimony Ms. Sawant had the outburst convicting herself in, has been incognito since the trail ended… our correspondent had visited her housing colony too but her parents have washed their hands off and the neighbours have no idea about her whereabouts. We will be trying to reach them and shall keep the viewers updated on this case….’
“…Oh…Oh God Preeti what happened…? I mean… what the hell… why did she do that…?”
“…No idea Ria… Swara never was the depressed kind… I don’t understand why she did… everything…I mean… this is so confusing…” Preeti said and then turned to Ria.
“…Ria…I hope these news hounds don’t get to know about your current location… keep a low-profile Ok…? so… got that job yet…?”
“…Nope… no luck as yet but there are still about 4 private clinics left… hopefully something should materialise… otherwise…” Ria spoke distractedly.
“…otherwise … what…?”
“…Nothing… I will change my field… maybe take up a job pf a receptionist or a telephone operator… save up some money to move elsewhere and hopefully by then this situation here, will die a natural death”
“…you will do no such thing Ria… you are great at what you do… Ok now listen to what I have…”
“…Hmmm…Ok…” She was still thinking about what Swara had told her outside the court…
“…the hospital had openings last week… I was wondering if you knew and would be interested… entry levels for all departments…”
That got her attention now! “…Preeti look…”
“…Wait…Ria… just hear me out…” she cut Ria and continued. “…. Ever since… the case happened, there have been few … um… changes in the hospital here… The bossman is conspicuous by his absence… he doesn’t see anyone…. Just NOONE… we don’t know when he arrives or exits…that if he actually does….”
“…will you please listen…? You don’t have much of a choice and these rumors and stories they do die a natural death but it takes time and that you don’t have… Look Ria… if there is any place you should try… its this hospital… I am not sure about the last dates for application… but just give it a shot…will you…?”
“… I am not sure Preeti… I… its tough…” her eyes welled up as she imagined the uncertainty clouding her psyche… her mind drew a blank.
“…Ria… I understand and if you get through, I am there till you settle… before I actually quit…And remember you didn’t serve your notice period… and didn’t get anything either… I found out from HR today morning, your last work month pay has been deducted but you will still get some amount in form of EPF… They couldn’t contact you since your number was changed and since they didn’t want to indicate that you had quit or they had asked you to leave they didn’t want to keep records like email… So at least come to collect your cheque. If nothing it will help you sail through till you get a job…”
Its not that Ria hadn’t thought of her dues… but she was sceptical to even step back into the hospital premises. However, now she was running out of time and options…
“…o…ok Preeti… I will be there tomorrow morning…”
After returning to her room Ria got busy with gathering her CV…not that the hospital didn’t have it… It was her first and last job so far! but her nerves were running amok and she needed to keep herself busy. She was glad she hadn’t fraternised much with her roommate an accountant by profession form the looks of it and she kept to herself as well and Ria was glad. She hoped the woman didn’t recognise her infamous roommate.
The next morning Ria walked into the Chopra group of hospital’s rehabilitation wing. She didn’t want to meet any of her ex-colleagues so she was there at about 11 AM, she knew Preeti would hate her for that but she was in no mood to fraternise. She didn’t even know what kind of welcome she would be subjected to and she couldn’t take anymore hostility. She had covered her head with her stole and hoped she could remain inconspicuous amongst the sea of patients.
She directly went to meet Dr. Hema Mishra her old supervisor who she was told was in charge of recruitment. “Oh, hello Ria…” Dr. Mishra called out as she knocked and peeped in…just like the old times “… so nice to see you dear, what’s up…?” Dr. Mishra continued as she juggled with her ever mounting paperwork.
Ria felt like a new intern that she was three years ago. But with Dr. Mishra she also felt at home. “Hello Ma’am… I actually needed a favor”.
Dr. Mishra looked up from above the top ridge of her reading glasses. “What is it dear? Did you collect your check…? I had asked the HR to keep it ready without the date so you could collect it anytime you come. Your paperwork … anything got left out? Any pending dues that we owe you…?”
Ria blinked back tears and replied, ” No Ma’am… er… I um… um… I want my old job back… the one before the promotion…”
Dr. Mishra stopped her work and gestured her to sit, glaring at Ria as she did… After what seemed like hours, she cleared her throat and said, “You know that is not possible dear. You have to re-apply as a fresh candidate… you just missed the last date by 3 days…. And we put out our… next list of openings after six months and that too if there is a vacancy. This is the company policy…” she sighed and continued “I am so sorry… I wish with all my heart to have my best subordinate back here… but… I am bound by rules. But… I promise, you will be my first choice whenever we open up our applications… I will call you personally…”.
Ria felt energy draining out of her body. This job was her last hope… She wondered what else she had left to lose… She had lost her family which was never there for her in the first place but whatever traces of respect they had for her. She had lost her reputation and her career even before it actually began, all… just for daring to speak out the truth.
“It’s alright ma’am …I will apply again… whenever the opportunity arises. Thank you “, she said and left the cabin.
As she was approaching the exit gate her phone rang. The caller ID read private number. It only meant one person and Ria’s heart beat faster. “Hel… hello?” she answered.
There was a pause and then a gruff voice said, “Come up 9th floor… last cabin on the right” and the call was abruptly cut.
Gaurav… he had moved his cabin? Why did he call her…? Would it be a correct decision to meet him since their so-called relationship was under scanner? But she had nothing more to lose and she wanted to see him…one last time… She straightened her back. She was no longer an employee here. She had no reason to fear or obey him, not after what had transpired between them… She went to the lobby and took the staff elevator covering her face and was thrilled even Tara mavshi couldn’t recognise her as she passed her. With each floor as the elevator climbed up, her heart raced faster. By the time she reached the 9th floor she was palpitating. She came out of the elevator and stood in the foyer taking deep breaths. The foyer was completely empty and Karuna wasn’t there anywhere. It was good, she thought as Karuna would have asked her a hundred questions. But she would also have been a source of strength for Ria…. today she was all alone.
Ria reached the last cabin and looked around. She had never been to this end of the wing and she didn’t want to think more, least she would start palpitating again…
She knocked at the door. “Come in” he called out gruffly as ever.
She opened the door and … it was dark inside. Curtains were drawn over the huge French windows. This was such a contrast to his earlier cabin which was bigger and of course brighter. She just peeped in wondering what to do.
“You may close the door please”, the voice said and Ria was startled. She closed the door and walked in, trying to keep one foot in front of the other. Suddenly the light was on and she had to raise her hand to cover her eyes. What on earth…
“Please take a seat Ria”, He said with that voice which gave her erotic dreams racing her heart as it did now. Ria looked up and her heart skipped a beat. Gaurav sat on his huge revolving chair like he owned the place… of course he did!! His formidable stance with the soft light from the false ceiling putting a soft glow on his face bring out the innocently passionate hues… she knew existed right beneath the rough exterior, with the scar totally hidden but…his right eye was bluish, bruised…Oh no… what happened?
Ria couldn’t help but ask, “Are you ok Sir?”
Gaurav stared at her… The same intensity… the grey eyes bored into her. Ria quickly sat down before she could react in anyway or show her feelings overtly.
“Ms. Narsimhan…”, so it was Ms. Narsimhan again, “… I am told you are looking for a position here”. The news had gotten to him already and… he was bang on topic. Ria sighed.
“Um… yes actually I came to see if I could join back… I wasn’t getting another job and … at that time… I um… I had to resign” she softly said.
“…Why the hell… did you quit…?” He asked in his lethally calm voice.
“…I had to get away Sir… after everything that happened… at least till things settled…” she didn’t know why she was explaining things to him
“Yes, er … I heard about your problems… Media still outside your home… and you aren’t there… I…I am sorry… but where are you staying these days…?”
Ria was surprised. In all the time that she had known him, she had rarely seen him fumble with words. The sincerity in his voice touched her, of course he had always cared. She smiled a little and said, “Um … it’s alright sir, I am ok now. I live in a working woman’s hostel…”
“…why…? Why not with your parents…?” He enquired and she didn’t know if she had to tell him.
“…Um… I had a fall out…”
“…because of the case…?”
“…Um… yes … among the other things…”
He stood and walked toward the side window, hands in his pant pockets and a confident stance. He turned around and looked at her. Ria was wondering what was happening when he said, “Look Ri.. er Ms. Narsimhan, as Dr. Mishra must have told you already we can’t take you back at this juncture. However, there is something I need to tell you, rather… I have an offer…“
Ria just stared… he continued, “…I am sorry for what you are going through with your folks back home…or your job situation…” of course he knew… is there anything he didn’t…
“…. I have an offer which will work best for both of us in our situations. Somehow, I think… I am responsible majorly for this…er turn of events… in your life…” saying, he turned back towards the window.
Ria waited till what looked like eternity. She softly said, “Sir…”
Gaurav turned around, walked back towards his table and kept his palms on it bending to reach her eye level.
Then without wasting his breath he said, “Marry me“.
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