Ria woke up to soft snores. She was cuddled up…someone hugged her. Was it Pooja? She sometimes did it when she had a nightmare. But it felt great…felt warm and cosy, like someone bigger than her had held her. She wanted to sleep more but her leg was throbbing. Leg? The earlier evening dawned on her. She raised her head and felt his breath on her face. Eyes widened, she immediately moved away from him and winced. It felt as if a truck had run over her. She looked at Dr. Gaurav sleeping peacefully the dark shadows on his face hiding the minute scars… his hair spread unevenly on his forehead. She looked away. The rain probably had stopped she could hear slight drizzle. She struggled to move and dragged herself up. She saw her phone near his head and taking it she checked the time. It was 6AM. It was still dark…maybe because of the clouds. There was barely any charge, and no network. She had to get back home soon. She slowly slipped out of the bedding, biting her lower lips so that she wouldn’t groan in pain. Her leg felt numb. She saw her soiled gown had torn to reveal her leg up to her thigh. Did he see her like this last night? He must have. He had treated the wound and she looked down… She still wore his coat. She pulled it closer to prevent the shivering due to cold. He had shut the window and the entry door sometime during the night. But still, it was very cold and she wanted to see if the water level outside had subsided; most importantly she wanted to pee. What was it about answering nature’s call and the perils following…? Her colleagues would laugh their guts out if they ever heard something as atrocious as to what took place last evening. Why only them? She too would have thought someone was jesting if she hadn’t been experiencing the situation herself. Her immediate thought went to her parents… Oh God they would be so angry and probably blame her… but immediately she heaved a sigh of relief… they weren’t in town. Thank goodness…
She tried to stand using the support of the table but her leg gave away and she slid down again. The pain shot up her body and she winced. Did she wake him up? She turned to look at his sleeping form. She held up her mobile hoping to use its screen light. She couldn’t make out his features in the dim light but then she didn’t need to. They were etched in her memory. His handsome face had lovely features and the mild scars… She shoved those thoughts aside as her bladder called to be emptied!
She touched his shoulder. “S… sir…Dr. Ga..Gaurav?”
He woke up instantly. He frowned when he saw her sitting up. He sat up and quickly checked his watch. “Ria…are you ok? Is something wrong?”
She pulled his coat closer and said, “I… I… I need to use the washroom. Um…can you help me stand?”
Without uttering a word, Gaurav quickly stood up to his complete height of over 6 feet. He came behind her and held her shoulder close to his body. He then took her hand and helped her up. Ria tried to take a step on her injured leg but she couldn’t feel it and she lost her balance but he held her tight towards him. “Just… just lean on me ok? I will check that leg once you are done. Come let’s go.” he spoke softly so close to her ears that she felt his hot breath on them. She shivered and closed her eyes. She wanted to savour the moment. Though he had been rude to her this past year especially for the past month, she had often dreamt of his soft voice and imagined it close to her in her day dreams. Even now, it was calming her anxiety. She mentally reprimanded herself for those thoughts when she should be only focused on getting out of here. But she only nodded and they shuffled slowly towards the washroom. It was very painful for her to complete the process in the pain and the darkness not to mention the utter embarrassment that had crept up her body, but he stood right outside her cubicle. Once she was done, she washed her hands at the basin and splashed some water on her face. All the while he held her arm. The mirrors were no longer there in the washroom so she couldn’t see herself. She was glad in one way. She probably looked like a zombie. Her head ache had come down but she still experienced a little dizziness and wished it would go away. Slowly they came back to his cabin. He helped her sit on the easy chair and raised her injured leg on the stool. “Thank you, Sir” she said as she looked at him and he stared at her for a moment. He then quickly excused himself and left the cabin.
What was that stare for, Ria wondered. Those beautiful black-brown eyes always had pulled her to him. So, she used to always avoid eye contact at work not that he gave it away either. HE barely looked at her always immersed in some files or books while talking to her…if those few words he spoke could actually qualify for talking. But his eyes spoke a lot.. She felt something in them…something she couldn’t express. She just wished she would understand the emotion in them and probably she would know why he disliked her so much.
He was back in about five minutes. His hair was unruly as though he had drawn his hands through them a number of times, his days old stubble bringing out the attractiveness of his handsome face, somehow gave him a raw appeal. He held a packet of sandwich before her. “Here… eat this. It looks good. It was in the fridge. Luckily the water didn’t reach it. The… guys must have kept the leftover food in the fridge. It was… uh… good thinking. It … it will be a while before we get to leave here”. She hesitated. Sensing her reluctance, he continued, “Look Ria, I know it has been a lousy ten hours or so. But you have to keep up your strength till you reach our hospital. I will give you another tablet but not before you eat something. Please… eat this”.
She took the packet and opened it. She took a bite, and realized she was very hungry and finished the sandwich in no time. She saw him as he kneeled down and looked at her injury. She unlocked her phone so now he could view it better. “The stiches and dressing are holding up and there is no fresh bleeding. That means it’s getting better…uh…it…it should heal quite a bit in a week or so. But to be on the safer side I shall ask Dr. Shetty to take a look at it at the earliest.” He said examining the leg and Ria was surprised. Dr. Shetty was the head of their surgical unit. She also knew Dr. Gaurav’s credentials. He had stitched her up and dressed the wound in the dark yesterday, using the bare minimum material available. That itself was a proof of his calibre. She decided she would refuse to see the other doctor later. Suddenly he lifted her leg. Then holding it, he sat on the stool and gently massaged the area around her wound. He moved her foot in all directions and gave a little traction. He then folded her leg towards her body and pulled it back towards his chest. This was exactly like she had seen physiotherapists work with the paralytic patients. She started feeling her leg. Though it was painful she was now able to wiggle her toes and felt blood flowing through her limb. Slowly he lowered her leg on the stool as he stood. He then gave her the medicine as she gulped it down with the last ounce of water he had. Did he have anything? She wondered…
“Sir, you didn’t eat anything? Is there… is there any more water… left for you?” She asked him. He swiftly got up without answering and went to the window and as he opened it and a blast of cold air with water drops flew in. She shivered and hugged the coat. He seemed to love the early morning breeze but hearing her gasp he turned around. He looked at her grimacing shivers and immediately closed the window. He took the thick blanket from the floor and covered her body… his feeble touch burning her more than anything else. In a soft voice that was now her favourite sound in the world, he said, “Ria, I am sorry. I didn’t realize you were cold. I wish I could offer you something hot but….” He looked away. He went back to the window and cracked it a little open. “…The water has started to recede but it will be a while till someone would come looking for me… but what about your folks Ria? Wouldn’t they be worried sick by now?” He asked as if he had just realized the fact.
She didn’t even realise when he had started calling her on a first name bases but hearing her name drawling out of his mouth… it had never sounded so filled with emotions that she again couldn’t explain. Ria replied with a calm which even surprised her given her agitation a while ago. “My parents and sister are visiting our hometown for a wedding. They won’t be back for another week. So, I am fine.” She saw that it was cloudy but not raining. She asked, “How long do you think we would be… here?”
Gaurav dragged his office chair in front of her and sat crossing his legs. He sighed. “The moment my housekeeper realizes I am not at home he will try to locate me. Hopefully the power should be restored by then and I can charge my cell phone. I also hope that either of us will get a cell signal. The landline phones have been disconnected long ago…”
They looked at each other in the semi darkness and Ria felt the pull of the mesmerizing blacks once again as she looked away. Why were his eyes so magnetic and fierce?
Gaurav spoke in a strange tone she couldn’t fathom. “I know your folks are not at home…but if they were, er…would they be worried? I mean…would they send a search party for you?”
What did he mean by that? She looked at him again and gave a sad smile, “I don’t know really… but they would be angry for sure… Um… they would have then probably thought I was safe with Vikram… um… my fiancé or having a night cap with Preeti….” She looked towards the window as though lost in thought and continued, “…but the irony is, I have never missed their curfews except… recently. Never have I defied their order or …” she looked at him staring intently at her. “…. Um… I am rambling…”
“But, haven’t you lived in the hostel? You had your freedom, right?” he asked in the soft voice that she now longed to hear.
“Sir….” she said again looking at the window and pausing as if to gather her thoughts. She was still not sure whether he was making small talk to make her feel better or if he genuinely wanted to know about her. “I… had to call home every day. My upbringing has been strict. Back at home we sisters were never permitted to be outside the home after 7 PM. We had to go to bed by 9.30PM. So, I was used to this discipline. I never went out with friends…. if that’s what you are asking. Then before I knew, I was engaged…. to a person I had never met before the engagement day….” Seeing his shocked expression, she smiled, “…. yes, that’s true. But I have trusted my parents to make the right…decisions for me…” She sounded as if she was defending her parents, surprising her as well!!
He pushed the chair with a loud drag on the floor, startling her, as he jerked up and walked briskly towards the window. He stood there supporting himself on the side still. Ria started at him… he seemed irked. What did she say that had him ruffled? She just couldn’t understand… ever since she had joined the hospital, he had only been a pain, the cause of her professional troubles and now he had the audacity to talk about her personal life and not like what he heard. What the hell…?
“So, this Vikram … is he… IS he the right guy for you?” Gaurav asked in a stern tone frowning as he looked at her.
Ria felt the sudden need to defend her parents…whatever it was this was her personal space and she hated washing her dirty linen in public. However she couldn’t stop the feeling of disgust when it was about Vikram. She spoke with downcast eyes. “My parents are everything to me. I owe my existence to them. I am what I am… my success… everything…. It’s… them. So yes, if they feel Vikram is the right life partner for me then …he is.” She looked away blinking back tears.
Her heart was heavy and she didn’t want him to see her vulnerable. Vikram always made her feel inferior and she wanted to change the conversation topic. She again looked at him and asked, “What about you sir? You said housekeeper…. So, is he the only one waiting for you? I mean …no other relative or…” She was actually curious.
Before she could continue he abruptly said, “…NO ONE ok? There is no one who is wasting their valuable time waiting for me back home nor will anyone MISS ME. No parents, no siblings, no friends and… No girlfriends… are you satisfied?”
They looked at each other with some unsaid conversation passing between them. As if they understood each other well. She felt her face heat up as Gaurav looked away this time and headed toward his office chair.
What had just happened? She had never seen him so…. was he vulnerable too? Was there really no one in his life? Was that why he behaved like that at work? But most of the people who had spoken about him…in fact everyone only had good words for him. Then why was he like this … with her? And the worst part of it all was…it had started to affect her…big time.
For once she uttered a silent prayer to the Almighty for giving her the gift of family. She even missed them now. She wondered what they were up to in their native. Would they worry that she hadn’t called them for last twenty-four hours? Considering the flood situation in Pune? Would Vikram have called her last night, for a change? Would he even have thought about her? She hadn’t told anyone of them about the party. Both, her father and Vikram would have come up with some kind of harsh words to hurt her and she would have landed up cancelling the event.
Why the hell didn’t Preeti or Tusshar wait for her? At least come looking for her? Were they so wasted that they failed to see she wasn’t in the bus? Tears filled her eyes as with a heavy heart she realised… no one would really miss her if she was absconding or kidnapped or even worse… dead. Well, she did have something in common with the bossman after all!
Before she knew half an hour had passed in her train of thoughts.
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