Preeti pinned the ghoonghat on Rewa’s lovely hairdo careful not to damage the stylish curls hanging down from the sides of the neatly made bun. She looked at Rewa standing behind her as they both face the mirror. Her sister was a beauty… always had been. She was happy to see her radiant and smiling to herself. But on the other hand Preeti was totally heart broken. She shouldn’t have met Gautam at all. At least she would still be anticipating meeting him… She would have lived with some abstract memories and probably moved on after few years…
The door to the room opened and tayiji walked in smiling. “Common girls let get going. We have to reach the temple onn time. Maasa has already left with others. The three of us along with your Tayaji will be leaving soon. I am waiting downstairs. Preeti, get her down soon…” She left the room.
Rewa stood and turned towards Preeti. “Um…Preeti everything’s going to be fine, isn’t it? I am so nervous…”
Preeti was struggling to control her tears. “Don’t worry didi, everything’s going to work out well….common lets go.” Rewa suddenly hugged her tightly and held her face in her cheeks. “Preeti dear you are the best sister one can have. I wish you for my sister every time I am born as a human after this birth…”
Preeti’s head was reeling with emotional overload… She felt it must be the pressure of the wedding that was to take place in sometime. At times she felt like telling everything to Rewa about Gautam. But then he had never committed anything to her. She was an equal participant in everything so far… Anyway she was leaving tonight after the wedding. She shook her head and helped Rewa out of the room in her wedding ensemble. Rewa had opted for a beautiful lehenga choli with her long odhni. Preeti too wore a lehenga choli combo though she didn’t want to. She dragged herself through the task, helping Rewa sit inside their vehicle. Tayyiji joined them and Tayaji sat in front with the driver of the decorated vehicle. Within fifteen minutes they reached the Devi Mandir which was decorated with floral arrangements for the celebration. There were huge pandals built on the back area of the temple. The string of lights created a beautiful hue. In spite of her emotional state Preeti appreciated the efforts put in by her folks for the wedding. But she wasn’t able to control the onslaught of emotions within…they were threatening to spill out and she had a tough time reining them in.
There were many vehicles parked in a queue. Preeti wondered how many relatives they had. She was barely knew anyone. Tayiji and tayaji got off the car and instructed them to wait in the car itself.
Preeti looked at Rewa. She was brimming with happiness. She didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth about Gautam. Her eyes filled her heart weighing down with guilt of having cheated her sister and her family as well. No… as soon as Rewa entered the Mandap for the rituals, she would book her tickets for Mumbai and soon as the pheras were done with she would leave for her home, pack her stuff and leave for Jaipur airport however late it would be. She no longer feared anyone or anything. But she was sure that she was done with Alwar once and for all. Yes… she sighed with a strange calmness coming over her. She was leaving…
There was a knock at the car’s window bringing her out of her day dreaming. It was Sita. She had come to take them to their pandal specially arranged for the bride. She walked with Rewa to her pandal. It was at the end of the row and close to the stage where the wedding was to be held. Preeti saw the pandit make the arrangements and her parents and uncle and aunt saw over the guests welcoming them. Where was Yash? He must be busy with the arrangements, she thought. She saw Maasa surrounded by close relatives enjoying the attention. It pained her when she realised today was the last time she was seeing her dearest Maasa. On the other side of the stage was the pandal for the groom and his immediate family. How would Gautam look in the traditional sherwani? Her heart fluttered with an image of him as a groom. But she shook her head as if it would drive away her thoughts. She turned towards the bride’s pandal and entered along with Rewa and Sita. It was a compact and a beautiful pandal with a cooler inside. There was two-seater recliner with leather cushions and flower bed on the seat. Preeti felt nauseous at the overboard preparations. She sat along with Rewa as they waited for the call to the mandap. Sita placed two silver glasses on the table in front of them. The beautiful crocheted table cloth reminded her of the hours her mom would spend with the art. She remembered this particular one. It was finished a little before Rohit’s ninth birthday. She remembered having dropped her tea on a corner by mistake and her mom had reprimanded her for it. It was to be used for his birthday party… which of course never happened. Her mother never made any of such table cloths or anything else for past twelve years. Preeti checked the little corner of the table cloth. The spot caused by the tea she had dropped years ago was still there. Very faint but was there nonetheless. She wondered how different her life would have been if that incident wouldn’t have taken place at all…. At least her mother wouldn’t have been a shadow of her former self.
Rewa was nervous and kept pacing the small area. Preeti sipped the cool ginger ale. This was Budia kaki’s speciality. She must have prepared it. She finished her glass and had some of Rewa’s too. Rewa refused to touch the drink. She was very jittery.
“Preeti… I am so scared… Will …will I be able to adjust in that household? Vikramji’s mother is such a snob…”
Preeti stood and went towards Rewa. She held her by the shoulders and said, “Don’t you worry didi… if there is anyone who can handle her it’s you. You will win her over with your super cooking skills….”
“…No Preeti that’s not it… you don’t understand. That lady is a super bitch and an opportunist… Um Preeti…”
“…Don’t worry didi… everything is going to be just…fine…OK?”
Rewa turned towards Preeti and held her by the shoulders. “Preeti…. I am so sorry dear…”
Preeti was puzzled. “Sorry? But why didi?”
Rewa dropped her hands and walked towards the cloth covering window. “Preeti, to start with I apologize for what happened…. twelve years ago… I … I …”
Preeti was stunned to silence. Why was Rewa didi mentioning the incident… what had she to do with it?
Rewa turned to her. She had tears running down her face. “I… I didn’t know it would result in dear Rohit’s demise, Sukhi uncle’s death… Oh God… I could never forgive myself Preeti… I never could….”
Preeti felt tears of her own. “I… I don’t understand Didi…” she said with a voice barely above a whisper.
Rewa was now looking at her with eyes red because of the makeup and the tears. “Preeti… let it go. Rohit and Sukhi uncle aren’t going to… come back… You…go back to Mumbai and start a new life…. Don’t ever come back here….” Her voice cracked again.
Preeti’s head was starting to reel. This was too much for her to take. How was Rewa didi involved? What was going on here? She had suffered so much for twelve years for no fault of hers…just with survivor’s guilt. If Gautam hadn’t been there that day then she would have been raped or may be even killed… She shuddered holding her head to stop the dizzy spell.
“Preeti… I am sorry. So… sorry for everything you and Yash had to suffer… for everything our family had to suffer… But trust me I never wished for all that… I didn’t know it would turn out like that…. Preeti you have to forgive me…. Before I embark on a new life… Please Preeti….Don’t tell….”
Suddenly Preeti was uneasy…she wasn’t able to hear Rewa didi anymore…Why was the world swaying? Or was she moving? Someone was pushing her…? Why was her vision blurring? She sat on the two-seater with a thud and held the table cloth close to her pulling it from its place. The last she heard as she fell across the two-seater was the clanking of the glasses falling down on the hard cement ground and Gautam’s words echoing in her ears…
“…Everything here is a Charade….”
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