Keith drove along the long driveway… lined with palm trees and bushes of different flowering plants on either side. Ria pulled down the glass window and breathed in the beautiful scent of the rainy mud mingled with the assorted fragrance of the flowers. After a moment the the pathway cleared to reveal…Oh my God… a stud farm. There was a lovely wooden board..
Welcome to parijath equestrian farm
That she was shocked would be an understatement and she realised she had her mouth wide open as she saw a couple of horses grazing around what seemed like unending grassland. The car turned again before she could see further and looking at her disappointment Gaurav spoke. “Hey we need to check that leg and get some food in… you can come here once you are better.”
She nodded in agreement and he looked away again. Did he really mean what he said? Her leg would take a while to heal… would they be staying here till then? Did this place belong to him?
Keith brought the car to the shaded entrance of a huge building and after shutting the ignition he got out and ran inside. It looked like some sort of a facility. She saw a statue-like thing at the entrance, however she couldn’t read what was written on it, but it looked like a bust of a woman. Gaurav got off the car too and held his hand out for her. She slid towards his end of the car seat and placed her hand in his. His warmth engulfed her senses and she tried to get moving but she just couldn’t get her leg out of the car. It had turned to jelly. She saw Gaurav call out to a man named Pradhan who she later got to know, was the supervisor of the estate. He produced a wheelchair out of nowhere and she heard Gaurav instruct him something about food and stay… all the while holding her hand. She couldn’t believe his fluency in Marathi. Suddenly, Gaurav bent and held her under her arms and supported her as she got out of the car, holding her close enough that she got the whiff of his cologne and a tiny feel of his hard chest… and helped her sit on the wheelchair. She was mortified feeling like an invalid and closed her eyes to blink back tears. She felt a soft touch on her shoulder and felt his warm breath on her ears as he spoke softly. “Ria…its ok.”
She nodded instantly felt better and opened her eyes. They didn’t take the main entrance but Gaurav pushed her wheelchair towards a road at the end of the right side of the building. It was quite a distance and she looked around. There was a long line of flower beds along the entire stretch of the compound on her left. Beyond that, there was a huge compound wall at least 8 feet tall lined on the top with the barbed fence. On her right was the three storeyed building. She heard some sounds and as she looked upwards she saw tiny heads looking out of the different windows on the first floor. The kids yelled “dada… dada…” Guurav halted and waved to them and she wished she could see his expressions. There were many women too giving them shy looks. She thought of asking Gaurav but didn’t dare to. Some of the little kids waved to her and she smiled as she waved back at them. Who were these kids? He pushed her wheelchair further breaking her out of her thoughts.
They were moving on a slope and she wondered how he had the stamina to push her weight. By the time they reached the romp at the end Gaurav was breathing heavily. There was a small exit which looked more like a back entrance to the building. Suddenly the metal door shutting the entrance opened and she saw Keith on the other side. He had Gaurav’s bag with him and polythene containing what looked like her tattered tote bag. When did he collect that? Keeping them down he rushed out and took over her wheelchair duty and Gaurav walked inside. As they entered the foyer she saw Gaurav walk further and beyond him inside, she saw a huge corridor. The walls were lined with framed photographs of children doing different activities and celebrating different events. Was this an orphanage… she wondered. She saw a board mentioning Girija Devi Ahuja Charitable trust. Her curiosity only increased as she saw there were many entrances to what she thought were rooms. There was a lovely aroma of fresh food which made her stomach growl. The clanging of utensils indicated the conformation of a kitchen in there. She saw some women, all wearing identical pink sarees rushing from one room to the other. Some had buckets of washed clothes, some held huge utensils. A couple of them were cleaning the floor with mops. Everyone stopped… when Gaurav reached closer. All of those women as well as some more in pink sarees emerged from the rooms and came towards them. Everyone joined their hands and chorused, “namaskar Dada”. She was spellbound at what was unfolding… she saw reverence in their eyes. Gaurav went forward and joined his hands acknowledging their greeting. He turned to Keith. “Take her upstairs to the Suite number two. I will be there shortly. Kalyani….” he addressed one of those women, “…. this is Ms. Narsimhan. She has had an accident. Go upstairs with Shamala to the suite and help her freshen up. Just be careful of the wound.” Turning to the other woman he said, “… Shamala take the first aid kit along and do the dressing… but tiny… like I showed you the other day…?” Shamala nodded and rushed to probably get the kit. He then looked at Ria, “don’t worry… they will take care of you. Shyamala here is a trained nurse she will do the dressing well. I… I will join you for lunch.” Before she could thank him he gestured to Keith and she was led into the waiting elevator. They reached the third floor and Keith wheeled her out of the elevator to one of the two doors on the left. The lady named Kalyani opened the door with a key and went in followed by Shamala dragging her huge kit. Keith then wheeled her in. It was a beautiful living room with a three-seater by two sofa set on left side along with a centre table and the TV unit on the its opposite wall. The other side housed a four-seater wooden dining table. She saw that there were two bedrooms adjacent to each other. She was wheeled into one of them. Keith turned towards her, “Ms. Krishnan, let me help you stand. Kalyani and Shamala will help with the rest.” He supported her as she stood and she shuffled a few painful steps towards the attached bathroom. She couldn’t help looking around and saw a double bed with white colored linen. Fatigue dawned on her conscience as the pillows and the bed called out to her and she only wanted to collapse on them. Kalyani was arranging clothes for her… wait… clothes? Shamala ran a bath and also arranged a chair and a little stool for her. Wow… they were so efficient. Shamala emerged out of the bathroom and nodded to Keith who turned to Ria. “Ok… Ms. Narsimhan… I will take your leave…. In case you need anything, Kalyani here is forever ready to help… Take good care of that leg… Got it?”
Tears sprang up into her eyes hearing his gentle voice. She blinked them away and smiled. “Please call me Ria… Thank you for everything… Keith… I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your name…”
Keith smiled revealing a lovely set of teeth and said. “It would be my pleasure Ria… Get well soon”. He turned around and shut the door behind him.
Kalyani and Shamala helped her with her bath It was extremely painful and there was no time for modesty as she shed both her clothes and inhibitions. Shamala did her dressing with utmost care as she sat on the bed wrapped in the large bath towel. Gaurav was right in trusting her… Shamala was very good at her work. They asked if she wanted help with her clothes but she was too mortified to let them see more of her…assets! They left the room smiling as she got back to the clothes laid out for her. It was amazing to see there were undergarments of her size. They were brand new and she wondered how they knew her size… and when did they purchase them?? She had tried to start small talk with Shamala and Kalyani but both had just smiled back and not uttered a word… looked like they had taken after their dada. Before leaving they had helped her on the bed and arranged the pillows at the head of the bed so that she could just rest against them. Now as she lay wearing her pyjamas, she was so relaxed with the hot water bath that hunger pangs notwithstanding she started to doze.
“Didi?” someone called out. Ria startled out of her little nap and looked around. Kalyani stood in front of her holding a tray filled with food the aroma reminding her of empty stomach doing the somersaults. There was another lady in pink who was standing there holding another plate. Kalyani placed the tray on the night stand right next to her bed. “Please eat this, didi. Then Dada has asked you to take these medicines.” The other lady forwarded the small glass plate which had the tablets.
“Um… thanks Kalyani. Where is … um… Gaurav Sir?”
“We don’t know for sure didi, but I heard him say something about a meeting in the office room. He must have gone there. Do you need help with lunch?”
Ria refused and they both left the room.
Ria was far more famished than she had realized. She gulped down the simple but delicious meal comprising of Khichidi and potato patal bhaji. She then took her medicines and placed the tray back on the nightstand. She was tired to the bone but wanted to wait up, in case Gaurav happened to turn up. But before more thoughts could conquer her she lolled down on the pillow… fast asleep in seconds.
Gaurav gently knocked on her door. He had been so caught up with the meeting with those foreign nationals, not to mention poor concentration because of intense fatigue and the almond eyed temptress across the door that refused to leave his mind… The hour long meeting stretched to three and he now wanted nothing more than to hit the sack, satisfied at its success. But before that he had to check on Ria. The door wasn’t locked but he didn’t want to intrude. Hearing no answer, he got worried and gently pushed open the door. The drapes were drawn which explained the darkness compounded due to the clouds… it was then he saw her profile on the bed. Kalyani had got her lunch earlier which she had quickly eaten, taken her medicines and gone back to sleep as per their reports to him. Kalyani must have drawn the drapes. He checked the time. It was 7.30PM. Ria had slept for long now… was she alright? He wanted to check her wound and not that he didn’t trust Shamala to do a good job but somehow he felt Ria was his responsibility now. He also had to see if there was any spike in her temperature, though he had taken all the precautions by increasing the antibiotic dosage now that he had better access to the meds. Nonetheless… he wanted to check for himself. He walked cautiously to avoid noise and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw that she was lying down on her back. He slowly moved towards her and when he reached her side of the bed, he bent down to wake her up. He suddenly stopped midway, when he saw her asleep. She looked like an angel though her features weren’t clearly visible. But he didn’t need light to see her features…. they were etched in his mind. Her mouth was slightly open and her filled chest moved steadily up and down in a rhythmic pattern. He knew she was exhausted due to her injury, fever and poor sleep. But her leg needed to be checked.
“Ria… Ria…wake up…” he said softly touching her shoulder but she didn’t stir. He switched on the night lamp. In the soft glow directly flooding her face he saw her… and couldn’t take his eyes away. Her long eyelashes were beautifully fanning her cheeks. Her high cheek bones gave a strong feel to her face. Her full lips now slightly open…. he was instantly hard. He was drawn to her like a moth to fire…. so much for that self-motivating talk on getting the transfer. Fire…that’s what she was, he thought and he would get burnt… He shuddered as the past memories flooded in and he straightened. He had… to focus on task at hand, this was about her now… not him.
He tried to wake her up once again but she didn’t move. The pain medicine dosage which he had increased must have knocked her out. He decided to let her sleep and check on her wound. But she was lying on the left side of the huge double bed so he climbed up the bed from the other side holding the first aid box, to reach her wounded right leg. He sat crossed legs next to her leg and gently removed the blanket covering her. He lifted her slender leg gently and kept it on a pillow which he had taken with him. He was relieved to see her dressed in pyjamas… he couldn’t tolerate another blow to his libido. He slowly moved the cloth upwards till the wound was visible. He gently cut open the dressing and checked the wound while she slept like a log. Though the wound was still raw he saw that she was healing well. The wound needed a light dressing now. He applied the ointment and proceeded to fix the gauze and tape, the pain causing her to stir.
Ria started to moan in her sleep. Gaurav quickly fixed the final tape and pulled her pajama down to her ankle. He placed the blanket again on her leg and turned to go.
“…N… no Vikram….don’t do it…nnn…NO… Please …I can’t….” she wailed.
Gaurav froze. He turned back towards her. Her face was contorted as though she was in agony. What was that all about? Why did she call out to Vikram? Why was she saying…NO? What did that bastard do? As she continued to cry in her sleep, he decided to wake her up to relieve her of her nightmare.
Keeping the first aid box aside, he bent down towards her and touched her right shoulder. “Ria…please wake up…. everything is fine…. Ria?” He called out again.
She suddenly opened her eyes and turned her head towards him. His face was close to hers and she squinted to look at him. She was breathing heavily… her eyes filled as she looked up into his eyes registering his presence. “…Ria…” he whispered. She lunged at him as sobs rocked her body. Gaurav lost his balance and fell on the bed beside her, with Ria in his arms. He held her tight as they lay beside each other and rubbed her back as she wept. He pressed her head to his shoulder caressing her. Gradually her crying reduced to hiccups but she still held him. Not that he was complaining but her tears were his undoing. He was in pain too… something about her upheaval tugged at his heart strings. What just happened? Ria slowly detached herself from his hold and laid back on her back staring at the ceiling.
“Ria…what is it? What happened to you? Did you… have a nightmare? You were trembling…scared…” he tried asking her. “…can I help you?”
Ria turned towards his side the action causing a grimace. “I …um…I am sorry …” She whispered avoiding eye contact. She blinked back tears as she continued, “… I shouldn’t have… I was… actually the last twenty-four hours have been taxing…. I guess it took a toll…”
Gaurav knew she had clamped up and wouldn’t reveal anything… not at this moment. He decided to let it go since she was seemed very disturbed to talk about it… who would know nightmares better than him…he was a veteran. He sat up and said, “Look Ria… I just checked the wound. It’s much better now. It should be completely ok in the next week or so. Till then just take care of it …ok? I will give you detailed instructions once I drop you home…. Go to sleep now. If you need anything…just call me. I am in the adjacent room. Here…” He gave her a mobile phone. “…Use this cell phone. Your phone has to be repaired. My number is on speed dial 2. The screen won’t be locked so …no worries. Uh… Your parents may be worried too. So… in case you want to call someone …please go ahead.”
He turned around and climbed down from the bed. Then with a quick glance at her, he walked out of the room, gradually shutting the door behind him. Why was it so difficult for him to stay away from her? He wondered as he took a cold shower and changed into his night clothes before his head hit the bed. As he lay staring at the fan sleep suddenly miles away, he kept going back to what had transpired. Why was Ria so upset…? Usually when sleep evaded him he pursued some hard work on the farm… but today he was flustered. He was in a fix… Oh God… was this …love all about?
He loved her… and realised with a start… he couldn’t let her go… ever…
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