Preeti got out of the elevator on the sixth floor which housed her office. The building was a giant structure a commercial one by a real estate giant. She had heard about them in Alwar as well. No… she wouldn’t think about Alwar today. She took in a deep breath as she strode into the wing where her office lay. Her subordinates would soon be joining her. She always reached early. Actually she had nothing else to do in her empty apartment. But here she felt lively. As usual she offered her prayers to the idol of Lord Ganesha at the entrance and went to her cubicle. She knew she had about half an hour before her colleagues would start trickling in. She looked around and stealthily switched on her tab. She used it only for one purpose for last three years…. for news from Alwar.
She hadn’t visited Alwar after she left the place six years ago and for about last four years she barely had any contact with her folks back home… if she could call it her home. Guess it never was. Rewa didi her paternal cousin who was close to her when they were growing up used to call once in a while but for a couple of years now she barely WhatsApped her. Preeti knew Rewa didi had a boyfriend. It was considered a taboo in their misogynist household. Her paternal uncle was an older version of her father who loved their daughters in a way that suited their convenience. They belonged to the archaic school of thought where girls in the household were not permitted to study beyond twenty years of age. They had to be married off. She had 2 older paternal cousins who were married before they were twenty one. They had grownup kids too and apparently were happy in their households. They rarely visited Alwar. Preeti’s family was Rajput, originally from MP. They had then migrated to Alwar two generations ago. Her father and uncle had their family owned diamond jewelry stores. The women at home were never told about the business details but Preeti was very perceptive as a child. Even before she had left home she knew the business was not doing well. That was probably why Rewa didi was still unmarried at twenty nine. She too could easily escape the brunt because of the same reason. Otherwise they were capable enough to drag her twenty six year old ass back home.
Preeti was good with numbers and had started dabbling in the stock market for last couple of years. She had made quite a bit of money which was a major part of her savings now. In fact last year she had hit a jackpot when the white elephant on whom she had put her money gave record returns. She had a safe nest egg for future use. She hoped to help out her family someday but knew her father would never accept her help. She would cross the bridge when she came to it… For now she opened up the Alwar news page. As she scanned the usual news about some political parties, climate and other miscellaneous stuff she yawned… but then her eyes fell on a sub headline and her heart skipped a beat…
Sengar Diamonds Pvt. Ltd to launch jewelry line…
She read the article twice to check if it was about her family. Yes, it was. Yashowardhan, her only male cousin was to helm the functioning while her uncle was the Chairman and her father the Managing Director. It was always the same. The brothers had hoped their sons would follow their footsteps and take Sengar diamonds miles ahead. Yashowardhan was almost as old as her… while if Rohit would have been alive…. She shut her eyes overwhelmed with emotion like it did everybtime she thought about her deceased brother. Twelve years had passed but her wounds hadn’t healed. Even going away from Alwar hadn’t helped. But as always the masked man with blue eyes replaced the memory and calmed her racing heart. She said a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for her life and continued to read the article. She wanted to know how they could manage to set the jewelry line worth crores when a few months ago they were to declare bankruptcy. She had to talk to Rewa didi. Before she could reach her phone it buzzed with an incoming call. She smiled as she saw Rewa didi’s name flashing on the screen.
“Think of the devil…. I was about to call you….”
“…There’s… some…something I wanted to tell you… I…I don’t know… how to …say…” Rewa was sobbing.
Preeti sat upright. Why was Rewa didi crying? “… Didi… what is it?…. why are you….”
“…Just listen …. Ok…?”
Peeti didn’t say anything. Just waited patiently for Rewa to calm down. But she was worried about her sister. Rewa didi, unlike her, wasn’t strong headed. She was docile and often bowed to the demands of the family. Maasa disliked Rewa because Dadusa (their paternal grandfather) passed away immediately after she was born. Preeti’s thoughts were broken when she heard Rewa speak.
“…My… my marriage has been …fix…fixed…”
Preeti didn’t know how to react. Did their family accept her boyfriend Suyash? He was not only a little younger to Rewa but also didn’t belong to their community. Preeti didn’t know anything beyond the fact that Rewa and Suyash loved each other and were going steady for last 5 years.
“….Won’t you ask who is the groom….?”
“…Who Didi? Who is the lucky guy…?” Preeti tried to humour her.
“… I DON’T KNOW…. You get that? I fucking don’t know the guy…” Rewa started to sob again.
Preeti was now silenced… she had never heard Rewa didi swear… she was a goody two shoes girl…
“Calm down Didi… tell me everything.” She tried to console her sister.
“… Our family has arranged my marriage to the highest bidder… do…do you understand? They wanted to save their fucking business so they sold me off…” Rewa wailed.
“Didi… what are you saying….”
“…Preeti…please come up here… PLEASE… I beg of you. I…I need your help… I love Suyash… I can’t marry some asshole….” Rewa pleaded.
“Didi… you know I can’t come there. Tauji and Bapu won’t like it…”
“…No… in fact they will be happy to project the complete family image… See… I …I need you here…”
“Ok…Ok… when is the um… wedding?”
“… Two months from toady… Please come ASAP….”
“That’s a long time….”
“…PLEASE Preeti… come soon… or ..or I will….”
“… OK fine… let me talk to my boss. I will get back to you after I book my tickets… But tell me…”
“… hey I can’t talk anymore… I hear Maasa’s footsteps….bye…”
Rewa ended the call. Preeti was lost in thought as her colleagues came in. The rest of the day was spent immersed in work and the lunch party but Preeti couldn’t focus.
Something was not right. She was supposed to be unaffected but couldn’t help the pangs of homesickness… She missed her mom, Rewadidi, Maasa and some of her aunts who lived close by. They doted on her when she was growing up… till Rohit came along. Then everyone’s attention had shifted to him. He was the apple of their eyes and the torchbearer of the future generation. Yashowardhan and Rohit were to take their business to new heights. It didn’t matter that Yash was interested in music and not business… and she wanted to be a part of the business. Sadly it didn’t matter to anyone. In the Sengar household elders dictated the fates of the children.
“Hey Preeti…boss is calling you in… I think your intercom isn’t working…” Someone called out to her getting her back to reality. It was good that her boss called her… she had to speak to him anyways. She had a lot of leave piled up and a month of it wouldn’t matter. She would delegate important projects to her subordinates and supervise everything online from Alwar. She knew her hometown now boasted of hi speed internet facilities. But as soon as she entered his cabin her boss looked at her with a grim expression.
“Take a seat Preeti” he said.
Oh this didn’t sound good. She had never seen her boss like this. What happened to the chirpy man?
“..Um… All ok sir?” she asked softly.
“Well… Preeti the company is downsizing… you know our last quarter wasn’t good. The board of directors wants to shut down our branch because it’s not profitable….”
“WHAT?” Preeti was stunned… this was a morning of blows.
“Sorry… dear… we …I mean… we all will be losing our jobs…So… I suggest you start looking for something else. You are super talented… and I will give you a good recommendation letter…”
“No…No sir… this company has been like my second home…all of you are my family…. I have given my six years to it… We can work out…”
“…Preeti you don’t understand… It’s …it’s not in my hands… I just got the news today. Next week one of the directors will be coming here to personally deliver the letters to us… till then…please ….don’t tell the others… “ saying he looked away.
Her boss suddenly looked much older to his age. The gravity of the situation suddenly sank in. Preeti tried to contain her tears but it was difficult. She wasn’t bothered about the money. She had enough to last her a lifetime of comfortable living. But it was this family that she would miss. She couldn’t go out like that… her colleagues would demand to know. She took in a deep breath to compose herself.
“Um…sir… I would like to leave for today…. Please…. I will get the reports done at home and email them to you…” Preeti spoke with her throat clogged.
“…Fine… Take care… are you ok…?” her boss seemed very concerned.
“…I…Iam fine…fine sir… I need some time…. Also it’s pouring heavily… My area is sure to get water logged….” She was rambling
She excused herself and left the cabin. Her subordinates were upset that she was missing the birthday party… but they were all asked to leave early because of the rains so everyone was distracted. She used this opportunity to gather her things and rushed out of the office premises. They were a young fin loving crowd and she knew they wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. The elevator doors were about to shut when she rushed and put in a hand and the doors opened again. There was only one other person in the elevator which was headed downstairs. She didn’t bother to give him a second look. She never usually did… She was so engrossed in her issues; she suddenly got jolted out of her reverie when the lights went off…. The elevator jerked to a halt and was plunged into total darkness. Preeti was scared out of her wits. She always dreaded darkness…after the incident… Her breathing became labored. She couldn’t make a sound; her vocal cords felt choked…
She felt a hand on her shoulder. She knew that touch… Oh Good Lord…. Was it….. She stood still…
“Don’t worry ok? Help will arrive soon. Stay calm….” He spoke in the same soft voice…but a little heavy.
She wasn’t scared anymore but stunned would be an understatement…
She managed to say “D…D…Dark…. S…s…scared…”
The hand on her shoulder patted her and he said, “What hurts you, blesses you, darkness is your candle… Don’t fear it…you are brave… stay brave…”
She turned towards him in the darkness. She only saw a silhouette. She touched his arm… it was still the strong toned muscle… Suddenly the lights came back and the elevator started to move. She saw him… without a mask. And his eyes were brown. What the hell. But she could recognize him without any other physical clue anywhere. More than everything, the feel of him being around, something she couldn’t miss at all. Her tall stranger, her savior was definitely here.
“It’s you….” She whispered before she collapsed into his arms.
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