Three months later…
Ria picked up the files from the cabin head of the psychiatry department of Lotus multi-speciality hospital in Warangal. She went back to her cabin close by and kept them on the pile of already existing ones which screamed for her attention. She sat down on her revolving chair with a thud and sighed resting her head on the backrest. The work here was back breaking and they paid peanuts. Besides seeing cases in the psychiatry ward, she had tons of paperwork to do as well as double up as a receptionist or a clerk as they were short staffed. Not to mention the language barrier, it was tough to break the ice with the locals, even the staff who were notorious in showing her who the real bosses were. She didn’t care and just waited for the clock to turn fast so it would be time for her to go home. She stared at the ceiling fan rotating around noiselessly in its own world impervious to the turmoil raging in her heart.
She glanced at the calendar hung on the side wall… three months… It was three months ago, today when she had last seen Gaurav. Not a day had passed since, when she hadn’t thought about him. Every time she closed her eyes the image of his stricken face as she declared her decision to quit the Chopra group… would swim before her eyes. She would dream of him muttering sweet nothings in her ears and immediately her eyes would well up and then she would drown in her misery… She had thought getting away from Pune would be the best solution for everyone and probably it helped others too but for her… she was wallowing in her sorrow. She missed Gaurav… missed him so much it hurt… every damn day. She wiped her tears and looked at the grandfather clock in her cabin. It had been there since ages and was an antic eyesore in that modernised cabin. But she thought it represented her… she was always the misfit everywhere she went… It was time to leave for the day and Ria bundled up the files to carry work home… Home…if she could call the tiny studio apartment, that. She lived as a paying guest in her maternal uncle’s house. They had a bungalow wherein they usually rented out the divided top floor with its own entrance. It had been a win -win situation for everyone.
She still recalled the day Gaurav and Keith had dropped her at the entrance of the lane to her housing colony that morning three months ago. It was the morning after her showdown and Gaurav and she had barely spoken. In fact, she hadn’t even spoken to Keith and that was killing her… but not more than what she was going through for not talking to Gaurav. He didn’t speak a word but she could feel his eyes on her and feel his anguish as well. She only consoled herself she was doing right by him as well. He didn’t need to set things right for her when he had his own worries served on a platter to him. Though Keith and Gaurav never discussed things before her she knew there was a lot more than the case ending in the court and also knew he would have to fight the battles outside. She didn’t have to increase his troubles further…
When she had asked him to stop the car at the lane entrance, Keith had been surprised. “Ria… let me drop you at least till your colony gate… its quite a distance and… and you bag is pretty heavy to drag it all the way…”
“…Its alright Keith… I am used to carrying baggage with me… Thank you…” Then without a backward glance she had walked away huffing and panting and not stopped till she reached her housing colony gate. She didn’t know if it was her being conscious about herself that she felt everyone’s eyes on her. She felt every onlooker wanting to get a byte out of her… some juicy court gossip. A couple of them also approached her with some nasty irrelevant questions while some passed obscene jibes but she just ignored them and kept walking rapidly towards her building. She quickly climbed up the stairs to Mr. Joshi’s house where she knew the additional keys of her house were kept. Though the Joshi’s were brimming with curiosity like the other spectators when she had entered the colony, she didn’t speak a word and left for her house. Her muscles were burning by the time she opened the door and stepped inside. As soon as she kept her bag down her eyes fell on her thatha’s framed photo and she removed it hugging it to her chest as she sobbed away her heart’s grief. She stayed like that till afternoon when her stomach growled. She prepared a quick lunch of khichidi with what little was available and switched on her phone which Gaurav had returned to her. It was pinging with messages for the next few minutes and the maximum were from Preeti… She didn’t even bother to read the rest and deleted all of them. She had immediately called her friend and Preeti after initially reprimanding her for hiding about the 29th July night, she had told Ria about the ugly gossip at work. She had also mentioned Sudhir being arrested but the major issue was since no one could openly talk about bossman and almost everyone was hating Swara for the lies she had spewed; Ria was the only option to gossip about. Preeti also added about the negative publicity the hospital had received and based on rumors, she doubted if Ria would be transferred to another branch…. Ria had laughed sarcastically and told Preeti about her decision to quit. Preeti had been kind enough to offer her a place to stay at her home till she found another place of work, to fund her stay at the working women’s hostel, but Ria had refused. She wasn’t in the right frame of mind then and wanted a clean break… from everything.
She had then called her appa… who initially cut the calls and on the fifth try he had answered it.
“…Why the hell are you calling…? What do you want…Ria…?” He had screamed into the phone angrily.
“…Appa… where are you all…? I was back home…”
“…That isn’t your home… I had told you when you left, hadn’t I…?”
“…appa… look… I have quit the job… left everything behind now and want to make a fresh start… exactly like the way you want it… where are you all…?”
“…We are at your mama’s place in Warangal… We will be getting Pooja married off in a week… there is no point waiting anyway… she isn’t interested in studying further and I am ok with it… what good did studies do to you… I have seen first-hand. At least let me get one of you settled…”
“…Appa… I am withdrawing my remaining saving totally and will give it to you as well as the couple of jewellery which I have for giving to Pooja… let me come… to Warangal please… I won’t attend the wedding if you don’t want me to…”
Her Appa had paused for a while and then said. “…Ok… come here then… and transfer the money to my account… we are running short…”
With a heavy heart which had become almost numb with grief Ria had booked a ticket, tendered her resignation online and next day she had left for Warangal.
She had landed here three months back and her uncle had helped her get this job at the hospital and as promised she gave whatever was left with her to her father and sister. But she didn’t feel a thing because she realised, she had left her heart behind in Pune… with the handsomely scarred hunk who held it by the strings… which were barely lose and at times she couldn’t breathe as the waves of emotions clogged her throat. As promised, she didn’t attend Pooja’s wedding and the very next week her parents retuned back to Pune. She stayed back resigning herself to her fate… and now three months down the line she had found out the trial news had died an early death since she wasn’t around to rake things up and everything apparently had gone back to normal. She occasionally had a chat with Preeti who was busy with her wedding preparations and was all set to quit her job to move to another city with her beau next month. Though Preeti often told her to join the hospital back, and also a couple of working women’s hostels around where she could get a room for miniscule amounts, Ria didn’t read much into it. Though she told herself otherwise, she only spoke to Preeti to get details about the hospital… i.e her bossman. She often wondered how he must be doing… would he have moved on… did he remember her? But unfortunately, there was absolutely no mention of the hospital or her bossman… It was good in a way, she thought. She wouldn’t remember him… would she?
But she was so so wrong… she was catapulted back to her memories with Gaurav every time she met her current boss in the hospital who was ruthless with everyone. Every time she saw a horse or a park, she was reminded of Parijath. Parks also reminded her of the last day of the trial when he had taken her on a nostalgic journey down his memory lane. Every time she had curd rice she was now reminded of Keith… Oh God Would she ever get out of this…? Would she ever move on…?
She came back to the house emotionally drained as she always did whenever she thought about Gaurav… which was always, she received an incoming call on her cell phone. She had changed her number and only Preeti, besides her parents had it. It was her appa… what did he want now…? They had barely spoken after her arrival in Warangal.
“…Ria… just dress up well and go downstairs to your mama’s house. There is someone I want you to meet…”
“…what… I mean… who…?”
“…can’t you just do as told without questioning me…? It’s your mami’s cousin brother… now listen carefully. He is a businessman but a widower… just turned fifty… and has a son aged ten years… So, he needs a mother for that brat and a companion for himself and who better than you…?”
Had he lost it…?
“…What are you saying Appa…? Marriage…? He is fifty…? Widower…?”
“…So what…? And do you know he is funding the entire wedding and we won’t have to shell out a single penny… See how everything is falling into place…? And he has no problem with you working as well. Now instead of sending half your salary to us you can give the entire amount… you won’t want for anything since he is loaded…and the best part…? He has agreed to pay off the personal loan worth ten lakhs, so I will only be left with the home loan…”
Her father went on and on and Ria blocked him out before she heard him again. “…and good for all of us… so meet him and don’t be a snob…OK… you owe us that at least after everything we had to go through…” and then he disconnected the call.
Of course, everything was good for all of them except Ria… but not that it concerned her appa anyway. Tears filled her eyes… why didn’t he leave her in peace? She knew he had to take an additional loan for Pooja’ wedding and debts had piled up. She had thought staying back here and giving half her salary to him in spite that compared to Mumbai her salary here was a pittance, would have sufficed but no… here he was back again with his vicious ways. What would she do now… they didn’t even bother to ask her before calling the prospective suitor? She had left Pune with the hope of retaining her sanity and while she still had to find her footing in every sense of the word, here was another turbulence… Why God why…? What had she done to deserve this merciless flogging one after the other…? She had fallen from the frying pan to the fire… what could she do now…?
There was only one name she could think of and she dialled the number.
“Hello Preeti… I need a huge favour. Um… you were mentioning that working woman’s hostel close to your place… can you send me the address? I am leaving Warangal right away… It’s almost 6PM now here…”
“…What…? Ria…? Are you insane…? What happened…? Are you alright…?”
“…Preeti nothing is right… but no time to explain… can you talk to those people and reserve a room for me… I have a little money to tide over for a month…”
“…Ria don’t worry about that… I am here to help. You call me once you reach Pune and I will arrange the room for you…. Just take care…Ok…?”
“…thanks … Preeti… got to go now…” Ria disconnected the call and immediately packed her stuff… whatever little she had with her.
As she left the house from the back entrance and rushed towards the auto stand that would take her to the bus depot, she saw a high-end car parked at her mama’s doorstep… Looks like her appa’s Mr. Moneybags was here. Anger surged up within her, strengthening her determination to run away removing even an iota of self-doubt. The bus was to depart late at night and she waited at the depot canteen after shutting down her phone. The bus journey was the cheapest mode she could find and
Later as the bus cruised across the sleepy Nampally, Ria stared out at the black night outside… the darkness no less than the one that had engulfed her life… for a long time now. She had seen a silver lining for a while… with him… but now… she didn’t know what life had in wait when the grueling 25-hour journey was done with…. And a long journey it definitely was that was to continue even after she reached Pune…
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