I leaned out of the compartment door of the train and smiled at the Pune station far in sight.
I am home!
I got out from the train and kept my suitcases on the platform. The onslaught of the coolies was maddening but after rejecting four of them, the others seemed to have gotten my message. I fished out my mobile phone and called my brother.
“Where are you?” I asked him, annoyed.
“On the Empire State Building, why?” He replied in his usual casual and arrogant tone. I ended the call, shaking my head.
Someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around to find my little brother staring at me with his blue eyes. His height was more than it was the last time I saw him. My brother can be annoying sometimes but I love him the most, even more than my parents. He is dearest to me. I smiled at him brightly and gave him a tight hug. I planted a big wet kiss on his cheek to which he grunted in mock anger.
“Let’s go.” He said with a smirk on his face. “Winter is coming.”
And not so surprisingly, I knew what he was talking about. He pushed the button on the handle of my suitcase and pulled it along with him as he started walking towards the ramp. It was my cue to follow him which I did. My thoughts began to waver. I had controlled them through the journey but now I cannot. Raghav’s words have acted as catalyst to trigger the whirlwind of questions, doubts and thoughts.
So, I quietly followed my brother with him whistling and me planning.
You’re wrong brother. Winter ain’t coming no more. Winter is already here.
My life was perfectly fine except for the fact that I had never got along with my parents. Except the regular fights with my mother. Except for the inevitable truth that I won’t ever get along with my parents. Except for the fact that 24 x 7, I am under pressure to study. My sister is the plank of wood that just keeps me above water. At least she was until she left me two years back for her job in Mumbai.
I stood behind my sister in front of the door of our house. My mother opened the door and laughing, hugged my sister.
Grooming before butchering.
We walked into our house where my mother took Shraddha into the kitchen. I walked straight into my room and closed the door behind me. I put on music and turned the volume up.
Bring it on mom!
The relief I had felt after coming back at home vanished the moment my mother took me into the kitchen.
“When do you have to join?” She asked, cutting an onion in half.
“Two months later.” I told her. I knew her strategy.
Take your time, mom. Plan your questions well.
“Hmmm. How are your roommates?”
"They’re fine. They cried when I told them. I will miss them.”
And here we go!
“Why did you decide to take this job?”
“Mom, I’ve told you two times before. My salary was not good.”
I know I can control her for ten more minutes because I have prepared for it but my body is not.
“I’ll go freshen up a bit.”
“This is our house not a pub!” My mother shouted. I could literally see my brother’s smirk which brought a smile to my face. I wiped my face with towel and joined him in his room. He was sitting at his table, reading a book.
“Wow! Your relation seems to have improved a lot.” I said
“Well, I never like to fight.” He replied, not looking up.
“I know how you feel.” I told him, closing my eyes.
“You do...and yet you left me.”
My eyes snapped open. I looked at him. He was looking straight into my eyes. His blue eyes looking soft and hard at the same time. I was somehow imprisoned by his gaze, unable to move.
He returned his attention to the book.
“Tell me.” I said.
“Doesn’t matter, you’ll leave again, anyway.”
I quickly walked up to him and spun his chair around to make him face me. I gently pulled his chin up.
“It’s unbearable! The pressure, the tension, the shouting, taunting, blackmailing, lying! She is unbearable.” He said. “I just don’t know how to face it anymore.”
“Hey, I’ve come back now, okay? You are going to be fine. We are going to be fine.” I assured him even though I knew I was lying. I kissed his forehead and hugged him.
I never have, never will be comfortable in anyone’s arms but of my little brother’s. I still can feel the curious little blue baby eyes on me and touch of his baby-ish finger on my nose and then his baby-ish giggling.
But, I know.
I know we are not going to be okay.
Our neighbours, the Patils called us for dinner on my sister’s arrival and even though I wasn’t that excited about it, I went there for my sister.
I sat beside my sister along with my parents and Mr. and Mrs. Patil.
“How’s Shantanu, Praveen?” Dad asked Mr. Patil.
“Still in Delhi. He says he cannot visit for a few months.” He replied.
“How are you, Shraddha? Long time no see, eh?” Praveen asked her. I ignored the rest of the conversation and after clearing my plate, I excused myself. As I walked up the road to my house, I saw Alia walking with her family to their car. She noticed and waved at me. I waved back and headed home.
All I needed now was my bed.
“Yes.” I typed and pressed send button. I was very excited about tomorrow.
My phone vibrated showing new message.
“Let’s go to Phoenix Mall tomorrow, what say?” I read it in my mind. I typed a yes and then a goodbye as my eyelids began drooping.
I woke up late and now was running through the house. I entered the bathroom and put on the shower. My father was saying something to me but I couldn’t hear it because of the shower.
He repeated his question but I still couldn’t hear it. I turned the shower off.
“So you coming with us?” He asked.
“No dad, I have to meet some friends.”
I was surprised to find my father still at home but I didn’t question him.
“Raghav?” He walked up to me.
“We are going out, you coming with us?” He asked.
I knew this was my father’s way of trying to patch things up between me and my mother and not to hurt his feelings, I agreed to it.
“Where’re we going?”
“Phoenix Market City.”
I had imagined that he would surprise me. But he didn’t. Actually he couldn’t. He was busy. But I was wrong. Someone suddenly covered my eyes. I knew the touch too well to be startled. He removed his hands and turned me around. One look at him and tears pricked my eyes.
His brown eyes, jade black hair were all the same. The only difference was that his clean shaved face had now stubble. He smiled at me and wiped my cheeks with his thumbs. He hugged me.
Shouts erupted all around us. Ajinkya held me at a shoulder’s length now. I looked around to find familiar faces staring at me. The next five minutes were blur. Hugging my classmates, friends, exchanging unpleasant pleasantries. All I wanted was to be alone with Ajinkya whom I couldn’t find. I spotted him in a corner, speaking on his mobile phone. He ended the call and walked back to me. Draping an arm around my shoulder, he started walking with all our friends tailing behind.
We settled into the chairs of a nearby café.
“So how are you?” He asked.
After my friends got what they wanted (free food) they suddenly had work to do and I was more than happy to let them go.
I joined Ajinkya on his bike and he began driving to the mall. I had many imaginations, many fictitious versions of how our Milan would be, how I will feel. Excited, happy and many other emotions but I didn’t imagine what I was feeling then. Not in seven lives would I have thought that I would feel like that when I finally meet him. I was feeling..............awkward.
Two years back when we sat together on his bike. My hands would unintentionally find their way around his waist but now even keeping my hand on his shoulder felt…different. “Don’t overthink!” I scolded myself.
What is happening to me?!
We reached Phoenix.
“So, where should we go?” He asked me.
Why is this feeling awkward?!
“I really don’t know.”
He looked at ease but I knew he was feeling no better than me.
“I actually wanted to buy a new shirt, what say?” He said pointing to a Tommy Hilfiger showroom.
Ajinkya’s family is as rich as anyone can get. So pointing at a Tommy showroom is no big deal for him.
I don’t know if you guys feel this but whenever I am travelling with my parents, I feel out of place. They have many topics to talk about. They talk about some problem in dad’s office, about an upcoming marriage, even Kam wali bai is interesting for them and therefore I cannot participate in it. I cannot go on asking them ‘Who do you think will sit the Iron Throne?’ And the most important thing is that they don’t want to be disturbed and of course our teenagers’ entertainment is congruent to their disturbance-radio.
I snuggled my hand between their seats and turned the volume up a bit which was turned down by my dad. We even cannot play a single game for a long time. I played Mini Militia, then COC, even Candy Crush. I was just about to open the Marshmallow game when we reached Phoenix Market City.
I followed my parents wherever they went, whichever shop they entered. Shopper’s Stop, Reliance Digital and other shops. But the real fun began when we were on the second floor. I looked at the scene before me and knew that coming here was the best thing I did in my whole life.
“And here I thought she was gay.”
He handed me my ice-cream cone and sat beside me on the bench. The one shirt which he had decided to buy turned out to be many. He kept the bags beside him. I licked my vanilla ice-cream. The mood between us was better now. Some jokes, laughing, high-fives and some shopping brought us more or less on track.
“When do you have to join?” He asked.
This was part of my plan. To give myself enough time to think, plan and act. In our relationship I had always been the one to make the decisions and never did Ajinkya take lead. Even now he was clueless to what I was aiming for.
“You look beautiful.” He said. I nudged him with my elbow, playfully.
“Since when did you start complimenting me?”
“Let me think.” He said, looking as if thinking. “I don’t know ‘since’ but I know the ‘until’”
I punched him. He tried to punch back but I caught his hand. I don’t know how but we were both laughing. His eyes became serious. He looked me straight into my eyes.
“I missed you.” He said.
“I missed you too.”
I leaned towards him, he followed my gesture. I didn’t care if anyone saw us. My face was just inches away from his. I nearly jumped when my mobile phone began to ring, completely startling me.
“Hell Raghav!” I shouted in the phone.
“Ye 90’s ke romance mein Hashmi wala VFX kyun dala?” He asked.
My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I did a quick 3600 scan of the floor and found him. Those two beautiful blue eyes looking at me with malice and the dirty smirk on his face. Moustache and beard sprouting, straight nose and short-cropped hair, I could identify him from miles away.
“How the hell...” I began but he cut me off.
“Shut up and listen to me. Mom and dad are with me.” He said, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. I spotted mom and dad walking with their backs to me. My legs turned Jell-O.
“Run. I’ll distract them.” He said and ended the call.
I grabbed Ajinkya’s arm and ran in the opposite direction of my parents.
I ended the call. Dad was just about to turn.
“Hey Dad! That looks interesting!” I nearly screamed pointing my finger blindly. My parents followed my finger. I glanced back. There was no sign of my sister or her...whatever.
My parents looked at me weirdly.
Well, your parents are going to look at you weirdly if you point to a Jockey showroom and say that it looks interesting.
Dad shook his head and continued to walk forward. I exhaled loudly, relieved and joined them.
“There she is! You want vanilla ice-cream?” He mischievously asked.
I closed the door behind my back and joined him on his bed.
“What the hell was that?” I asked him, barely containing my anger.
“Coincidence?” He said with a smirk.
“Sometimes, that little smirk of yours is very annoying!”
“Then I’ve to improve it. It’s always meant to annoy.”
“How the hell were you at Phoenix?!”
“Well, you two didn’t rent it for the day.”
My brother can never answer a question straightly.
“Why were you three there?”
“Dad took us out. He said he had asked you in the mornin’ but you said you were busy.” He said the last word so cheesily, it brought a smile to my face.
“I timed the call perfectly.” He told proudly. “Just inches, sis.”
I punched him on his shoulder.
“Are you going to tell them?” I asked him.
“Definitely.” He replied but I had been with him long enough to understand what he meant to say.
“That’s why you came back, didn’t you?”
“Yes, please don’t tell anyone for the time being. I’m going to tell them about it. It’s just a matter of days. I’ll tell them.”
“Hell with it. Tell me how you guys met.” He asked with a glint in his eyes.
“It all started in college....”
It had been 2 weeks since my arrival. But my mission was getting nowhere. Ajinkya barely got time from his work and the time we got was to get our relation on track. Six years and still our relationship was getting nowhere. Out of my calculated two months, two weeks were already struck off the calendar. I was getting frustrated. But it wasn’t as if I was doing nothing those two weeks. I was getting my parents to like me more. Helping my mom in the kitchen, serving dad his food and other things. My brother started gaining ‘intel’ on Ajinkya Mehta. He scanned his Facebook account, twitter handle, Instagram. He went all spy-y on him. He didn’t tell mom and dad about Ajinkya but started to tease me indirectly.
But this wasn’t helping much. I needed some response from Ajinkya, some positivity that he was willing to take our relation to the next level but he was giving me none. Whenever I tried to approach that subject, he acted so dumb that even Raghav could talk better than that. Ajinkya actually isn’t dumb; he is innocent and a bit childish.
A new problem had arisen too. Sophia. Ajinkya seemed to have developed a nice friendship with her. The new stubble which he kept was because she told him that it looked nice. I don’t know why but every time I thought of her or even heard her name, it sent alarms blaring through my mind.
We were sitting in a café near Ajinkya’s office. I gripped the hot coffee cup in both of my hands, welcoming the touch of the nice warm cup.
You can do this!
“What are you thinking about?” Ajinkya asked me.
He sipped coffee from his cup.
“It’s been six years.”
He looked up.
“Yeah. Six long years.”
“And still we’re nowhere.”
He looked confused.
“Meaning is that it’s been six long years and still we are getting nowhere.”
He had a confused expression but I knew better than to believe it. Even though I hadn’t struck a bull’s eye, I had managed to hit a 9 or 8.
I wanna marry you, dumbo!
He called for bill suddenly and I knew then. I knew my mission had failed. It had failed even before it began.
He paid the bill and got up from his chair. I got up in a trance and stumbled behind him to his bike.
We drove away. Tears pricked my eyes and I wasn’t sure it was because of the wind.
“I just looked around and bravo! There she sat all cosy with Ajinkya. Hand in hand, both looking into each other’s eyes. Then she closed her eyes and leaned towards him, he followed her gesture and when their face was just inches apart, I called her.” I told Alia as we walked on the footpath.
A smile had resided on her face the moment I had begun to tell the story.
“What did she say?” She asked.
“Nothing. She just asked me to be quiet. She said she’s going to tell mom and dad about him.”
It was nearly 10 P.M. The starless sky was our only roof as we walked.
“So, what do you think?” She asked.
“He seems like nice guy but I don’t have a good feeling about him. For two years they didn’t see each other except for the Skype calls, phone calls and chatting. Lots of things can change in two years.”
“Like developing a liking for some other girl.”
“You’ve seen him once that too just for a minute. You haven’t even talked to him and from his social media profile you judge him?”
“I wouldn’t need to see him nor his social media accounts but I’d still judge him because he’s a boy. He’s a man.”
“Don’t you get into this mess. You’ll earn yourself a nice hearing from your parents.”
“Doesn’t matter. Who gives a damn about what happens to me? Who cares?”
“Some people do.”
“And who are those some people?”
“Some people are some people.”
We were just turning around the corner of our block when I saw my sister drive away.
My whole body was rigid as stone, tension instead of blood through my veins. It was all I could do to keep my Vespa from falling.
He had called so suddenly.
All Ajinkya said on the phone was that he wanted to meet me immediately. I stopped at the place where he had told me to but there was no sign of him. My only companions in the starless night were the two shops with closed shutters.
Where is he?!
I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around. He walked towards me, looking intently into my eyes. He seemed serious, excited and afraid. He stopped two steps in front of me. His eyes were neither blinking nor were they wavering from mine. No one said a word.
I had a feeling.
I could already guess what this was all about. My insides played basketball in excitement but I did not utter a single word. His right hand was hidden behind his back and I could only guess what it contained. It was all I could do to keep my face straight. I could literally see him shaking.
“Shradd-” He coughed and cleared his throat.
“Yes?” My voice barely left my lips.
“You remember the first time we met?” He asked.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Then you must remember our first date.”
“You had told me one of your desires.”
It took me a second but then it clicked. It all fell together. I had told him how I wanted to be proposed. It had all came to me in a dream.
I was in twelfth when I had that dream. Me and my future husband stood on an empty road in complete silence. Then the faceless man sat down on his knees and proposed to me. Tears started spilling from my eyes and then I nodded with a face-splitting grin.
His voice brought me back to the present. He sat down on his knee and looked at me through his lashes.
“I want to be the one to fulfill that desire. I want to be the face that you couldn’t see in your dreams. I want to be next to you when you have another stupid dream like this.”
A sound escaped from my mouth which was half a sob and a giggle. Tears started flowing down my face.
“I want to be your knight in shining armour. I love you Shraddha, will you marry me?”
I did it!
He proposed me!
“Damn, yes!” I shrieked in delight.
“Now all we have to do is tell our parents and convince them.” I said, looking at the diamond ring on my finger.
“Only yours. Mine already know.” He said.
“What?!” I jerked my head from his shoulder.
“Yeah. They already know.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“I just didn’t want to pressurize you.”
Pressurize me?! You just lifted a Hagrid off me!
I calmed down myself.
“You okay?” He asked.
“So only my parents don’t know.” I made a mental note.
“How will I do it?” I asked him, already freaked out.
“Not ‘How will I do it?’ ‘How will we do it.’ ”
My mother had frowned when I had told her that Ajinkya was coming home for dinner. Actually I didn’t tell them that Ajinkya was coming alone or what we were going to tell them. I had told them that Ajinkya was coming along with Sara and Raj, my other two friends.
The plan was tell them that Ajinkya, Sara and Raj were coming and afterwards Sara will have an emergency and Raj will have to pick up his uncle and aunt at the train station. Ajinkya alone will come home to attend the dinner and then he and I will declare about our engagement.
My heart was already beating fast but it turned faster when the doorbell rang. I jumped from my bed and walked to the door. Ajinkya’s face appeared as beautiful as ever as he stood in the porch. He wore his jeans and a simple Polo shirt. His hair was neatly gelled. He had shaved for this occasion. He gave me a bright smile but his eyes said that he was afraid as hell. My parents were getting ready and were therefore yet to come out.
I sat him on a chair at the dining table and pulled one out for myself. Blood pounded in my ears as I gave him a smile. I was too afraid to speak so I excused myself and quickly went to my brother. He was studying at his table but looked up and smirked at me when I walked in.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing. Just waiting for the dinner.”
“Why are they taking so long?”
“Mom might be instructing dad on the questions.”
My mom’s brains went overdrive when I had told her that my friends were coming home for dinner. My other friends had come for dinner many times but from my expressions, she must have understood that there was more to the story than I had given.
“What are you going to do?” He asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I’m so excited!”
I heard the door to my parents’ room open.
I squirmed in my seat. We were now all at the table.
“Where are Raj and Sara?” My mother asked.
“Sara called me. She said she had an emergency and Raj had to go pick up his uncle and aunt at the station.” Ajinkya explained.
My sister was beautiful since the moment she was born (according to my parents) and even now she looked beautiful….Not now. She had beads of perspiration on her forehead and her eyes were as big as ping-pong ball. She seemed to be tucking the invisible strand of hair thousand times behind her ear.
Ajinkya too didn’t look much good. He was neither sweating nor were his eyes big but he was tense. His body posture told that. His legs were joined hard against each other; he was sitting on the corner of his seat.
I could feel the tips of my mouth going upwards.
My father asked Ajinkya a few questions and they even laughed. My father seemed oblivious to the tension field over the table.
Then the dinner was over.
My plate was empty but I didn’t want to miss even a second of action so I continued to sit there.
“Mom, I love Ajinkya.” Shraddha said all of a sudden, rather ‘said’ she ‘squealed’. My parents looked at Shraddha, completely stunned. Even Ajinkya looked surprised. My parents continued to stare at Shraddha. I knew I had to carry the conversation forward.
“What the hell are you talking about?!” I exclaimed.
“And Raghav knew about this.” She continued.
Now the stares turned to me. I knew I had to do something quickly.
“You love him?!”
I successfully diverted the stares.
“We love each other and want to marry each other.” Ajinkya added.
Dad got up from his chair and walked straight into his room.
Mom followed dad into their room.
“Enjoy!” I greeted them and excused myself.
Ajinkya looked at me. I was surprised even though I hadn’t imagined them to smile and congratulate me and Ajinkya. I had imagined that they would scold me, that my father would kick Ajinkya out of the house but the main event seemed to have ended in just a minute.
Ajinkya got up from his seat and sat near the leg of my chair. He took my hand.
“Whatever happens, we are in this together. You hear me?” He said. I was really grateful for his support.
“You go back to your home. I’ll take care of this.” I told him, putting on a bright smile on my face.
At the door he squeezed my hand again and left. I walked into Raghav’s room. He had now changed into his pajamas and was staring at his mobile phone.
“You know your room is just 25 steps away.”
I ignored him and sat on a chair. Raghav sat up.
“Listen to me, Shraddha. You’re rushing this. Take it slow. You’ve been away for the past two years; you don’t know what happened here when you were away. Let me see…”
“Seriously Raghav!” I interrupted him. “Ajinkya isn’t that kind of man.”
“Shraddha, two years!” He said. “Lots of things can change in two years.”
“Shut up, Raghav. You’re just a teenager. Mind your own work.”
He wanted to say something but didn’t.
“Give some ideas on convincing mom and dad.” I requested.
“Minding my own work?”
“Interfere in mine!”
“You cannot convince mom. All you gotta do is convince dad. He’ll get mom on the bus.” He suggested.
“Yeah, right. Thanks.”
I sat on the bench in our small garden. I knew my father would come here. Each night, before going to sleep, he used to check on us. He’ll not find me on my bed so he’ll come here.
After five minutes, dad appeared beside the bench. He relaxed after he saw me.
“I thought you left.” He said.
“I’m not that silly.”
“You did prove it today.”
He sat beside me and looked damn straight.
“So what do you think about Ajinkya?” I asked him, fearing his answer.
“For the half hour that I was with him? He seemed a nice guy.”
“Then why don’t you like him? Because he loves your daughter?!”
“Why don’t you like him? Why did you walk away?”
He didn’t answer the question. He continued to stay silent. The dead silence continued for almost a whole minute.
“I thought my baby girl knew me.” He said.
I was confused.
What does he mean?!
He turned and looked at me.
“Shraddha, you can marry whomever you want whether I like him or not! I don’t care if you have a boyfriend! I walked away because I couldn’t let you see me crying. I was hurt because my baby girl was leaving me.”
“Yesterday I think I saw her crying and kicking in my arms and now she says that she wants to marry someone?” He said with a smile and tears in his eyes.
I didn’t know what to say. My throat was choked with emotions. So I did the only thing that I could. I jumped into his arms and cried making weird sounds from my nose. He patted my back while I continued to hold him tightly.
Some people say that women suffer a lot in our society, that there’s discrimination between boys and girls. Feminism, women empowerment…blah, blah, blah.
They say that parents hate if it’s a girl, they want a boy, a waris. Someone to carry on their legacy but sometimes….
Sometimes a man doesn’t care. A man doesn’t care about the future. Not every son drops them in an old-age home and neither does every girl kill them with dowry.
My dad had prayed for his first-born to be a girl and he was blessed with me.
It is our society which thinks that by telling the young generations stories about those unworthy sons, they teach us a lesson to care for them. Even some women promote feminism in a wrong way. They promote it by demeaning males.
A story is always told about a couple who has two children, a boy and a girl. They treat the boy as a prince and after growing up the boy dumps them and then the daughter saves them and cares for them and then they get it.
According to the tellers, they don’t get that women are worthy too. They get that men are unworthy.
Think about it people! Are all boys selfish and unworthy according to you?
Especially women, I want to tell you, not every boy or man thinks less of a girl or a woman so still are all the boys according to you the villains in the story? Do all the boys treat you unfairly? Is every man same like the ones they show in Crime Patrol or Savdhaan India?
And the most important question………
“Are all the girls as innocent as they look (pretend)?”
Answer this women,
Do you want equality or superiority?
Episode 5 - Season Finale
The ladder laid against the wall slid and fell to the floor with a loud bang.
“Hell!” Raghav said and walked out of the house.
I stepped cautiously over the different types of flowers and fell on my bed. Dad had convinced mom for the marriage but she had one condition-She did not want the wedding ceremony to be too extravagant. Actually she was correct. Those who have attended marriages, they’ll know what I’m talking about. You know, people do everything they can to make the marriage comfortable for the guests but there always remains something that deviates from the plan and then the ‘comparison saga’ begins. “It would have been better if it would’ve been at the Raj Sabhagriha”, “The food was useless, why pasta and noodles?! Just simple sabji and bhakari would’ve done it!”
So I agreed to her condition immediately and now here we were decorating the house, setting up the mandap, buying sarees, going for facial, appointment at the spa....blah, blah, blah.
The ceremony was two days away and even though there were still two days, I had to dress-up and make-up everyday and yes just like other girls it took me long to dress. I don’t know about others but I don’t take long because I do excessive make-up or I’m confused. It take me long time because I need long time to convince myself that I’m looking good. Ajinkya might not even notice the pattern of beads in my necklace. And for this I envy Ajinkya. All boys have to do is wear washed shirt, slide up a pair of jeans, gel their hair, put on a bright smile and they go all DiCaprio. My father was out running some errands, mom was busy with decorations and Raghav was of no help. Either he used to lie on his bed, studying or at Alia’s place.
After an hour, my head was burning like a furnace. I was barely able to contain my anger. I knew that if someone came to me with a bad news he was surely going to earn a hearing. But I didn’t know it was going to be someone so close to me.
I jumped from behind the car and turned on the Activa.
“Come on, Alia!” I urged her. She sat behind me as I started the vehicle.
“If the police catch us-” She said, fearfully.
“Then I have Ajinkya’s mobile number learned by heart.” I told her.
“How the hell does it help us?” She asked, angrily.
“You see, my to-be-jijaji comes from a very rich family.” I told her, not letting Ajinkya’s bike out of my sight.
After driving for nearly five minutes, Ajinkya stopped his bike at a café. I parked in an adjacent alley and followed him slowly. He sat just adjacent to the waist high wall of the café.
I knelt behind the wall at an angle of 45 from Ajinkya’s table. The wall hid us well from sight and gave me a nice place to record with sound as well. I removed my mobile phone and turned on the camera.
“You’re recording it?” Alia asked in hushed tone.
“My sister trusts Ajinkya more than me so proof is a must.”
A girl walked into the café and sat in the chair facing Ajinkya.
It was my luck that they sat in the outer section of the café and not inside or it would’ve been difficult for me to record it. I started recording. After their order arrived, both Ajinkya and Sophia looked tense.
“Who is sh-” Alia began but I cut her off.
“Sophia. 24. She works with Ajinkya.” I told her without taking my eyes off Ajinkya’s table.
“I heard you were marrying Shraddha.” Sophia said, pain resonating in her voice.
“Why?” She asked, her voice breaking.
Game on, baby!
Now Ajinkya looked up at her.
“What do you mean ‘why’?”
“Why are you marrying her?! You like me!” She said, her eyes watering.
“No! I’ve never said that!” Ajinkya said, horrified.
“You didn’t have to say anything after-”
“Sophia, it was just a kiss!”
Keep going Ajinkya!
“Please don’t marry her.” She begged. “Not after those great two years.”
“Nothing was different in those two years! I was attracted to you but not now!”
I just love you, Ajinkya!
“I love you, Ajinkya!”
See, she thinks the same.
Ajinkya got up from his table. Sophia too got up and before Ajinkya could move, she kissed him. He pushed her away.
“Hell, Sophia! Look I don’t want to hurt you but I’ve never looked at you that way.” He said.
Tears streamed down her face.
“Don’t worry about Shraddha.” She said. “I won’t tell her a thing.”
Ajinkya walked out of the café. Now Sophia cried shamelessly, her whole body shook as she cried. She covered her eyes with her palms.
“He said he never liked her.” Alia said as we drove back home.
“It wouldn’t have mattered even if he liked her.”
“But then how will this stop the marriage?”
“Because Ajinkya will be exposed.”
“For not liking Sophia.”
“No. For lying to Shraddha.”
I looked at the crescent moon through my window.
“What are you looking at?” Shaila, my former roommate asked.
I didn’t know what was happening to me. Until now, all I wanted was to marry Ajinkya but now I doubted if I took the correct decision.
“You okay?” She asked.
“Yeah. It’s just that I’m feeling....different.” I said. “I’ve wanted to marry him for a long time and now that it’s happening, it just feels...”
“Shraddha, you are sure about this marriage, right?” She asked, afraid.
“Yeah! Yeah! It’s just...I must be having cold feet.”
Talking to her was a bad idea. I had to escape.
“I’ll go and check how the decorations are coming along.”
I walked out in the garden welcoming the fresh air.
“Watch out!” Someone screamed above me. I dropped down on the grass covering my head. Two wooden bars fell just a feet in front of me. The temper resurfaced, boiling.
I rose and turned but someone jerked me around. It was Raghav.
“I had told you to take it slow but you didn’t listen!”
“I had told you two years can change many things.”
“Raghav-” I was quivering with anger.
“Look at this. He met some-”
Slap! His cheek turned red after my fingers connected with it. Now there was no stopping me.
“Just shut up! I’ve been hearing your nonsense thinking you are a child but enough.”
All of the workers had stopped working and were now looking at us.
“I’ve tolerated you enough. I don’t care what you think. I just wanted you to keep your mouth shut which you did, thanks for it but enough with Ajinkya being a cheat!”
I looked straight into his blue eyes, they were sparkling in the light.
He took a deep breath and smirked but it didn’t have the arrogance. He closed the clip that was being played on his mobile phone and walked inside the house. One glare at the men gawking and they returned back to their work. Suddenly Alia was in front of me.
“You’ve hurt him badly.” She said. “He did all this for you and you played him?” She said, disgusted. She shook her head in disappointment and walked away.
I played him? What the hell is she talking about?!
I rewound myself and again heard myself.
What have I done?
I ran into Raghav’s room. He was sitting on his bed, his eyes closed.
“Raghav-” I started.
“It’s okay, sis. I won’t disturb you again.” He said and opened his eyes. He walked to me.
“Best wishes for your married life. I won’t come to your marriage.” He said and kissed my cheek. He walked out of the room.
I laid on my bed, sobbing into my pillow and I couldn’t blame anyone. This was all my fault. My brother wasn’t coming to my marriage. I didn’t know when exhaustion got better of me and I fell asleep.
It was nearly noon. I was in my room. My mobile phone pinged to alert a notification. It said:-
Ajinkya Mehta was tagged in a post.
I opened it.
Sophia Parker with Ajinkya Mehta, it read followed by their photo together. The caption read:-
Thank you for your friendship. I was really blessed to have a friend like you.
Sophia! Bloody Sophia!
Raghav must have seen them together. I ran into Raghav’s room and played the clip on his mobile phone. My heart went breaking till the end of the video.
Raghav was telling the truth!
He cheated on me! He betrayed me!
He lied to me!
She finally listened to me. She watched the clip and came to her senses. My parents were completely unaware of the situation. She had gone to confront him.
My mobile phone ringed. Shraddha had called me.
I walked into the living room. My parents were having a discussion.
“We have to confirm about the music system.” My dad said.
“We’ll talk to Ajinkya.”
“Mom, you cannot talk to a person who is lying in a pool of his own blood.” I told her.
“Ajinkya is dead.”
TO BE CONTINUED....