Ria waited till about 9PM for Gaurav to arrive but he didn’t and she had lost her appetite in worry. She was glued to the TV which was the latest addition to the safehouse courtesy Manek, but there was no news besides a mention in every bulletin about today’s development which she was by heart with by now. Where was Gaurav…? Was he all right…? Even though his past was a major shocker for her, she still worried for him. His eyes revealed his inner turmoil openly and it was like he laid his soul bare before her today as the prosecutor massacred his past. Thought at that juncture she was angry… felt betrayed even, but now as she waited for him to come, all she wanted to do was to give him a hug ad console him…Her eyes welled up given her feelings which hadn’t reduced even a little… But why was he torturing himself…? She wished he would talk to her, share his grief with her. Even if he didn’t want to share his past it was fine by her, but she wanted him to speak out his turmoil… to vent out… She heard the vessels clanking in the kitchen as Keith went about the chores. He hadn’t said anything except raised an eyebrow when she had told him she didn’t want to eat. She saw him emerge from the kitchen and sit on the chair opposite the couch.
“…He will be here Ria… don’t worry… why don’t you eat dinner…?”
“…Keith…I am worried sick… Is he OK…? He didn’t seem fine when we left the court today…”
“…Ria… Gaurav sir has been through worst turbulences than you can think of and has emerged victorious. So, trust me when I say he will sail through this storm as well… I am sure he is planning things out with Manek and Khatiyal…”
“…Um…Keith… can I ask you something…?” when he nodded, she continued. “…how do you know so much about Gaurav sir…? I mean… you are more than a cook or driver…I know that… what is it that you do for him…? Well besides babysitting his guests…?” She smiled as he chuckled.
“…Ria… just consider me to be Gaurav sir’s well-wisher… I would do anything for that man… anything…” He looked at the wall clock. “…Ria…I think you should eat something light and go to sleep … we have a trying day tomorrow. You saw for yourself how ugly things can get, didn’t you…?”
Ria nodded and Keith smiled as he rose and went to the kitchen to get her a meal of her favorite curd rice. God less this man… he knew the right ingredients to calm her down… she was going to miss him as well. He was turning to be a very good friend. After a poignant pause lost in thoughts, she had her dinner and retired for the night. As sleep eluded her, she went back to the days since the accident reminiscing about how caring Gaurav had been. She just hoped someday he would find the peace he deserved.
Ria looked at the bedside clock it was 1AM and yet she hadn’t heard him come home. She felt thirsty and realized she had forgotten to get her bottle inside so she stepped out of the room in the dark only to crash into a hard body of muscle and almost screamed as she fell, her fall cushioned by the warm body…
“..Shh… don’t scream Ria… its… me… you’ll wake Keith… the man is a light sleeper…” Gaurav held his palm on her mouth.
Ria was breathing heavily as her senses had scattered all over… she looked down into the silhouette of his face as she saw him in the dark with only the moonlight hues entering the drawing-room through the curtains Keith had probably drawn before going to bed. She lay half on his chest and half on the floor and suddenly realized where they were when he removed his palm from her mouth. She immediately sat up straight, straightening her hand had hit the ground. He sat up immediately and she realized he had changed into his full sleeve t-shirt and track pants. She hadn’t even known he had come even as she lay in wait. “Are… you all right…?” He asked her, pointing towards the hand.
“…What is it, Ria…? You aren’t sleeping again…? You have a… busy day tomorrow… you need the rest…”
“…You aren’t either…sir… I was worried so couldn’t sleep… you weren’t home… and after that car vandalising last week…I was …scared…” She stood up abruptly and walked towards the table where the water was kept. She drank from the bottle and as she kept the bottle back, she felt him come up behind her and froze… her heart started to gallop out of her chest. He placed his hand on her shoulder, her skin burning through the thin cotton of her night gown, and turned her around to face him. She didn’t look at him and closed her eyes as tears threatened to break the barriers and escape and she didn’t want him to see her vulnerable… not today. Her throat constricted as she caught her sob…
He kept a rough finger beneath her chin and lifted her head backward, her eyes still shut. “..Ria…please don’t do this… talk to me… what is troubling you…are… you nervous about tomorrow…?” He spoke softly and that did it. Her tears crossed the thresholds and began to flow from the corners of her shut eyes. She opened her eyes only to see his face looming right over hers, feeling the warmth of his breath… his citrus fragrance she so loved… He held her face in his palms and wiped her tears with his thumbs. “…Ria…” He whispered her name and brought his face closer… the only sound she could hear besides the drizzle outside was the pounding of her heart. Oh, God… She felt him come even closer, his face barely inches away from hers… her only regret she couldn’t see his expressions in the dark. But she didn’t need to … she knew his eyes were boring into hers peeling out layer after layer of his complex personality. She shut her eyes anticipating her first kiss. But he planted a soft kiss on her forehead and instead of being disappointed she was touched. He kissed her forehead again and this time his lips lingered on for a while she held the table behind her, gripping it tight as though her life depended upon it. And then suddenly he was gone… what…? Did she hallucinate his presence…? she touched her forehead and could still feel his lips… no he was real… very very real. She took her bottle and walked in a daze back to her room… tomorrow seemed eons ahead.
The next day they were at the court by 9 AM as Khatiyal wanted to prep her up. Gaurav had left even before she had woken up at 8AM…since she barely slept at 4AM. She had a quick breakfast of cornflakes and Keith had accompanied her on a prior arranged autorickshaw to the court. They met Khatiyal but Gaurav was not to be seen. As the reporters began to hover, she was getting anxious. Keith held her hand. “…relax Ria… he is already here… don’t worry… just focus on your testimony…”
Khatiyal who was busy reading some documents came up to where she was seated. “Ria… look I am sure you have gone through the mock questionnaire I had given you but just remember, stick to the facts and do not… I repeat… DO NOT DETER FROM FACTS… just the night of 29th July and NOTHING ELSE… got it…?” Ria nodded. “…Even if Khandagale asks you or takes up any topic on the hospital, you don’t have to answer… I suggest do not answer. If you have a doubt…look in my direction and if I nod answer it. If I don’t nod…do not answer…got it…?” Ria nodded again. Why the hell was he treating her like a kindergarten kid all set to appear for his exams? It was then he made it clear. “…I have got the news that Khandagale has something convincing against your testimony and he will try his best to use the dirtiest weapon… unfortunately Dr. Chopra has my hands tied and he has sternly refrained me from playing dirty…nonetheless… I hope you now understand…”
Ria nodded her respect for her enigmatic bossman increasing notches higher. His life and reputation were at stake and yet his moral compass pointed in the direction of righteousness… She hoped and prayed that today’s day would go smoothly…for his sake.
Soon it was time and as she entered the courtroom with Keith, she saw Gaurav was already there with Manek and her heart skipped a beat seeing him. He stole a glance at her and resumed his discussion with Manek. She blushed remembering the moments he had with him last night… However, all her mood went astray when her glance fell on Swara who was seated with the same woman, and like yesterday today too her head was covered with her dupatta.
Once the judge came in the proceedings started with her instructions. “Today is the second day of trial in this fast-track court. So Mr. Khatiyal are you ready with your witness and evidence descriptions…?”
Mr. Khatiyal stood and said, “…yes, your honor…”
She then looked at the prosecutor. “…Mr. Khandagale, are you ready…?”
To Ria’s surprise, Khandagale gave a side smile and replied, “…yes your honor… very well ready…” His demeanor was a far cry from last afternoon when the proceedings had tilted in Gaurav’s favor. Ria’s gut feeling told her he had some sinister motives behind the smile…and her anxiety rose.
Khatiyal stood again and addressed the court. “Your honor, I here by present the most important evidence, in this case, our material witness, Ms. Ria NNarsimhan. She was present on the night of 29th July with my client in the old hospital building where the party was being held… I call upon Ms. NNarsimhan…” He turned around and looked at Ria who was sitting with Keith this time. He squeezed her hand as she stood and walked slowly towards the witness box. She shot a look at Gaurav who smiled at her… a smile…really…? She instantly felt better and stood up with the confidence she had been trying to bring on since morning. “…So Ms. NNarsimhan, can you tell the court what happened on the evening and night of 29th July.
Ria nodded and started her testimony. “…Ma’am on 29th of July we all attended the party….” She went on to tell about the visit to the old building and the hurried departure before which she wanted to use the washroom… she spoke about her accident and how Dr. Gaurav saved her life and took care of her till she got stabilized.
“Khatiyal gave a sheet of paper to the judge. “…Your honor the court-appointed forensic expert under supervision of the local police had collected evidence from the washroom and the treatment room where traces of blood matching Ms. NNarsimhan were found. Her phone records too place her at that place till wee hours of morning….” He then gave me another sheet of paper. “…and your honor this is her medical report with the doctor she followed up on and even according to him the stitches were administered by a trained surgeon… So, this refutes Ms. Sawant’s claims about my client being at her place on the same night…” Khatiyal sat back in his place and Ria’s heart sped as khandagale walked towards her.
“…So Ms. NNarsimhan, our good friend Khatiyal likes to dig the past details… well…so do I….” He faced the judge and continued. “…Your honour, Ms. NNarsimhan had joined the hospital a little over a year ago and was given a promotion way beyond her caliber… am I right Ms. NNarsimhan…?” He looked at her and Ria glanced at Khatiyal who gave her a stare and she kept silent. “…Since Ms. NNarsimhan chooses to remain silent let me complete it for you…your honor…. Ms. Narsimhan got this promotion served on a platter… As per the hospital grapevine…and I have read between the lines this time Mr. Khatiyal… there was no love lost between the two. There have been instances of Dr. Chopra being rude to Ms. Narsimhan and outrightly outrageous which had shocked even her earlier supervisor… And then suddenly Ms. Narsimhan gets the plum post and an increment that would raise eyebrows….I want to know why… was Dr. Gaurav preparing for the rainy days…in advance…?”
“…OBJECTION…YOUR HONOUR… there is enough proof that Ms. Narsimhan was in the old hospital building. As for her promotion, Ms. Narsimhan has a bright academic record. She was also an intern at the hospital three years ago and was a straight recruit along with many others. Her achievements in the hospital were commendable as well… the information is all available in the official hospital dossier and we don’t have to rely on any rumors here. Ms. Narsimhan is a gifted counselor and her client testimonies in the hospital speak for themselves. Her promotion was well deserved…”
“overruled…Mr. Khandagale kindly refrain from straying from the topic…” the judge reprimanded him
Khandagale looked annoyed but covered it well… by walking around and turned back towards Ria. “…Ms. NNarsimhan. I believe you were engaged…”
“…Objection your honour… Ms. NNarsimhan’s personal life is of no significance here…” Khatiyal argued.
“…Give me a chance your honour, this does have a deep connection…” Khandagale muttered with clenched teeth staring daggers at Khatiyal.
“…Overruled. Proceed…Mr. khandagale…” the judge wiped her reading glasses and wore them again.
“…So…Ms. NNarsimhan… you were engaged … yes or no…?”
“Yes… I was…” Ria answered, her heart thumping at twice its speed.
“…can you tell the court when you ended the engagement… and why…?” Khandagale gave her a stern look.
“…I ended it about a couple of weeks ago… that’s because we weren’t compatible…” Ria wondered where this was leading to.
“… you may go Ms. NNarsimhan I will call you later…” As he left he spoke to the judge. “…your honour I would like to call upon Mr. Vikram Iyer, Ms. Narsimhan’s ex-fiancé in the witness box….”
What the fuck was going on…? She looked at Gaurav and saw him stare at the floor and Keith held her hand. She saw Vikram waltz in and give her a sarcastic smile as she took to the witness box. Khandagale approached him. “…Mr. Iyer, what were the circumstances of the breaking of your engagement with Ms. NNarsimhan…?”
“…Well sir, there was no specific reason… at least I wasn’t aware of. One fie day she texted me that she wasn’t interested in continuing this relationship… and that’s it…”
“…and when was this… Mr. Iyer…? I mean the epic break up over text message…?” Khandagale chuckled and asked
“…uh… on the 3rd of August…” Vikram spoke but looked at Ria who cringed in her seat.
“…Mr. iyer didn’t you try to talk to Ms. NNarsimhan about it…?”
“…Oh yes… I did… but she wasn’t interested in even talking to me and now I know the reason…”
What the hell… Keith tightened his hold on her hand as her agitation increased.
“…Well sir… isn’t it obvious…? I am not a significant person of a conglomerate, I cant afford the lifestyle she craves for…”
“…And what is that lifestyle Mr. Iyer…?”
“…Ria wants a life of luxury… she belongs to a middle-class background and I was a good catch at one time… but now she has seen bigger fish in the pond and so I have become obsolete…” Vikram spoke in careless abandon as tears had a free way from Ria’s eyes. Why the hell was he talking crap…why was he ruining her reputation… She saw Gaurav speak something to Khatiyal and he stood.
“Objection your honour… this is going total astray… what does Ms. Narsimhan’s personal life or character sledding get to do with the night of 29th July…?”
Before the judge could say something Khandagale retorted. “…it does your honour… all that I am only trying to show the true credibility of the key witness produced by the defense. … and I would now like to call upon Ms. Narsimhan back in the witness box…” The judge nodded her permission.
Vikram left and Ria dragged her feet towards the witness box.
“So… Ms. NNarsimhan… your ex-fiance has leveled some accusations against you which in simple terms means ‘gold digger’. What do you have to say…?”
“…I only have to say that he is lying…” Ria wiped her cheeks.
“…Ok… then now tell me isn’t it true that you were called by Dr. Chopra frequently to his cabin in the last one month… almost everyday… under some pretext or the other…?”
“…It was official work…” Ria whispered.
“…But the other two department heads were never called…Ms. Narsimhan…Ok forget that…tell me what would happen in the cabin during these frequent visits…?”
“Objection your honour…”
“Overruled… Ms. Narsimhan please answer the question…without any reservations.” The judge looked at Ria.
“…I would be waiting outside his cabin most of the time and then once inside it would be barely a five-minute talk, mainly regarding the corrections I had to make in my reports or plans for the patients…”
“…you expect us to believe that Ms. Narsimhan… A hefty increment following an undeserving promotion… come on… Ok… leave that… just tell the court… as you claim that on 29th of July you spent the night with Dr. Gaurav… what exactly did happen after he played doctor…?”
Obection your honour… this is just deviation from the actual topic by asking uncomfortable questions…”
“…not…your honor. If they are countering strong circumstantial evidence then she has to answer the question. Its important to know what happened…”
“overruled… please continue Mr. Khandagale…”
“…Thank you, your honour…” Khandagale looked victoriously at khatiyal. “… so Ms. NNarsimhan…back to that rainy night and I believe the lights were gone too… so in that dark rainy night… were you claim to have been alone with Dr. Chopra, what did exactly transpire…?”
Ria finally understood the direction this was heading and she looked at Gaurav who had gripped his chair tightly and was now staring at her… once again the strange emotion in his eyes pulling her towards him. She turned to Khandagale. “…Honourable sir, I don’t understand what exactly you are trying to project… but on that night of 29th July everything happened exactly like I told you earlier… Dr. Gaurav treated me and saved my life…. And you know what…? He took very good care of me just like an honorable man and a dedicated doctor would do….” She looked at the judge. “…Just because I broke off my engagement why does my character have to be desecrated…?” Wiping her tears she said, “…If I had pursued the main cause of breaking off with Vikram then we would be fighting another similar case in this very court… I let him go scot-free and this is what he does…”
“Ms. Narsimhan… you are talking emotionally now… Be practical…”
“…WHY…? Why should a WOMAN be practical all the time…? Why can’t YOU be… for once…?” Ria was surprised at her outburst.
“…Ms. Narsimhan… please answer the question asked…and Mr. Khandagale please stick to the facts…” The judge was annoyed.
“…Sorry your honour, but its difficult to believe what Ms. Narsimhan said… that’s all…So…” he turned towards her once again. “…Ms. NNarsimhan for one last time… last chance mind you… tell the court what happened between you two that night…?”
“…NOTHING HAPPENED GODDAMMIT…” Ria screamed. “…He treated me and made me sleep there checking on me for temperature spikes and giving me the best medicines he could manage to make avail under the pressing conditions that we were in… I am sorry if my answers don’t suit your malicious intent… But what I said was true… every word of it…”
“…That means… Ms. Narsimhan… Ms. Sawant was raped by a ghost…?”
“…If Ms. Sawant … if something happened like the way she claims it did then I am sorry for her but it was not Dr. Gaurav who did it… For all, you know she may be lying…like my ex-fiance….”
“STOP IT…YOU PRIVILEGED BITCH… JUST STOP IT… HOW DARE YOU SAY I AM LYING… DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT I HAD TO GO THROUGH IN MY LIFE…? YOU KNOW NOTHING…WHY THE HELL ARE YOU HELL BENT ON SAVING HIS HIDE WHEN ALL HE DID WAS INSULT YOU IN THE HOSPITAL…” Swara screamed standing up, her head cover fallen and she didn’t bother putting it back on
“Ms. Sawant you are instructed to take your seat…” the judge banged the gravel.
“…NO SWARA… YOU ARE WRONG… YOU WERE ALWAYS WRONG… EVERYONE HAS TO WORK HARD IN LIFE… THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO WEALTH… WHAT YOU DID WAS EXTREMELY DESPICABLE…” Ria yelled back at her.
Swara walked towards Ria and pushed away Khandagale even as he tried to stop her.
“YOU…BITCH… DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS TO HAVE A PROSTITUTE AS A MOTHER…? DO YOU KNOW HOW IT FEELS WHEN SOCIETY TREATS YOU LIKE SHIT BECAUSE YOUR MOTHER WAS A WHORE…? SO WHAT IF I LOKE DIAMONDS … SO WHAT…? YOU BITCH… YOU RUINED EVERYTHING FOR ME… RUINED EVERYTHING….”
Two lady constables came up and restrained Swara as she screamed profanities at everyone assembled in the courtroom even as Khandagale banged his sheets of paper on his table. KHatiyal stood up. “As you just witnessed your honour, the complainant doesn’t seem to be mentally and emotionally in a right state of mind… she is filled with some displaced sense of vengeance… None of the circumstantial evidence stands in the light of Ms. Narsimhan’s testimony. What they did in that examination room in the old hospital building is immaterial…what is important is that Dr. Gaurav was with Ms. Narsimhan that night… the entire night… even the fingerprints on his half-finished whiskey bottle in that room are proof he was there…. and one-person can’t be in two places… your honour…. I request you honour to squash the FIR …” Khatiyal bowed and took his seat with a victorious smile even as Ria’s little world swam before her eyes…
Her character assassination had been done mercilessly and if the news got out… Oh God… she was ruined in her society…
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