Ria was wide awake and…She wasn’t embarrassed… No. It was one of the most beautiful moments in her life but that was her little secret and didn’t have to reveal it to anyone. Why was Gaurav so good to her? Right from the time he had found her fallen yesterday night to almost twenty four hours now, he had taken such good care of her. Her wound was healing only because of his presence of mind. But he was a mystic puzzle way beyond her capacity to solve… she realised she knew nothing about him. He was a far from the ruthless Casanova image projected at work and she wondered why…
And this place… Parijath? What on earth was this? All those women and children… was this some kind of a home… like an orphanage? Did it all belong to him? Who was Girija Devi Ahuja? And those Horses… that view was splendid indeed. She had to visit before they left the place. Thinking of which she realised it was high time she called her parents and her eyes fell on the mobile phone. She had to call her folks with a ray of hope that they didn’t know about her rendezvous so far… and they would be probably worried about her. She dialled her father’s number and waited as the phone rang finally… It was strange that she longed to hear his voice amongst all the emotional chaos she was caught up in.
“Hello?” Her father’s voice was surprisingly chirpy at this hour of the night.
“Hello Appa… it’s me, Ria”
“Which number is this? Where are you?”
“Appa, my phone conked off. Pune is flooded badly…. “
“…. Ria good you called. I need some money. When can you send?”
Ria heart sank and her eyes filled. Is this what he had to say? Not even asking her how she was holding up?
“Appa… Pune is flooded. Our housing colony has been under three feet water….”
“I know all that. I spoke with Joshi last evening….”
“You called Rajeev uncle? Didn’t he tell you how bad the situation is? I couldn’t even go home….”
“Ria, I need the money urgently. You can do an online transfer to my account. I will use the ATM here.”
Ria was at her wits end but had no more energy to argue. Tears rolled down as she contrasted the caring of the man who was here a while ago to the person across the phone who was supposed to care a notch higher.
“Why do you suddenly need money? You were supposed to be back in a couple of days…”
“Er… Ria… there is something I had to tell you. .. er…Pooja’s marriage was fixed yesterday. The guy was from the bride’s side here. One look at our Pooja and he was a goner. He is tall, handsome IT engineer…….”
Ria was stunned. She blocked the rest of her father’s tirade. Pooja’s marriage was fixed and she wasn’t even told. Her father was only calling her now for …money?
“… Engagement is tomorrow. So, I need thirty thousand.”
That got her attention. “What? Engagement… so soon? Appa…. I don’t have that kind of money…. you should know that. I gave you all my savings before you left for Madannapet…” only she knew the difficulty she had to face in spite of earning a handsome salary… who would believe, her own family was milking her dry?
“What about your PPF? I had put money in that from your childhood…. I saw the balance when I updated your passbook last month. I also checked with the clerk. She said you could withdraw about thirty-five thousand… I only want thirty….”
WHAT THE HELL…. Her father had put the bare minimum amount to keep the account afloat. It was she who filled big amounts from her salary once she got the job. She was saving money for herself… for her life after marriage. That was the only safety nest she had… Ria was angry. How could her father do that to her?
“… Ria are you there? Arrange the money quickly. The engagement is on the day after tomorrow. We are doing it at home here but there are other arrangements to be made. Pooja’s saree, caterer…...” he went on.
Not once did he mention or ask Ria if she could visit them for Pooja’s engagement. Was she just an ATM for them? “I will send the money as soon as I can.” She whispered, her throat clogging and disconnected. Looked like, her responsibilities were the heavy baggage permanently attached to her back.
She remembered a few years ago when they had made a trip to Warangal for her cousin’s wedding. She was into her graduation program and had taken a week off since it was a close relative. She had saved up money for months to buy a half saree from a store near her house which sold clothes on the seconds. She had her eye on the beautiful green and red combination and there was a flaw in the design because of which she was getting it for a throwaway price. She had paid 500/- to the owner and had reserved it for a fortnight after a lot of coaxing. She had managed to save up 3000/- and was sure to adjust the accessories in it too. But somehow her father had got wind of it and she had to eventually give him the cash to use it to give the gift cover to the new couple. She had been so upset and had to borrow a salwar kameez from Padma. However it was quite ill fitting and she was subjected to sneers by her relatives beyond the usual ones. To add salt to her wounds, her parents had joined them in commenting on her appearance and ‘poor dressing sense’. That was the last family event she had attended and her parents too were never keen on taking her along. With Pooja however it was a different story altogether. Her mother painstakingly altered her blouses for her darling daughter and her parents were always proud to show her off… It had never bothered Ria so far but today her heart fell totally shattering into a million pieces. For all the trouble and sacrifices she had made just for an acceptance in the family, all she was subjected to was insults and no one cared about her… whether she was dead or alive. She held her chest, her pain far beyond the throbbing of the leg and sobbed falling into the pillow. All the events of her lifetime passed before her shut eyes… It was like she didn’t matter except for her pay check… both for her parents as well as her fiancé. She had tolerated everything for their sake… even her fiancé’s stupid advances. Speaking of which, Ria decided to call Vikram and ask for a loan till she could withdraw her PPF money. She would then repay him, besides the fact that he owed her too. She sat up wiping her cheeks as she made up her mind… this was the last time she was helping her appa. She would move out to a working woman’s hostel for all she cared. She would send him some money every month and fulfil her duty that’s it. She was done… so so done… She dialled Vikram’s mobile number… thankfully remembering it.
Vikram’s phone rang.
“Hello who’s this?” She could hear some kind of rock music in the background. Was he partying? In this terrible weather?
“Hi Vikram…This is Ria.”
“Ria…is this a new number? Ne ways…. leave it. Why did you call?”
… BECAUSE YOU ARE MY GODDAMN FIANCÉ… and the additional bane of my existence currently.
“Um…Pooja’s getting engaged… and I need to wire some money to Appa’s account. I am stuck in the flood….”
“…Ria, can you hurry up? I am …in between something.” Of course he was… everything was important to him accept her.
“Yeah sure… Um Vikram please wire thirty thousand to appa. I will repay you once I….”
“…hey… hey… hold on…. Do I look like a blank cheque to you? Thirty thousand… have you lost your mind? You say YOU will repay… but did you forget it’s our money that you are talking about? You have barely saved a penny since you started working. How are we going to buy that house if you don’t save money…? Just say NO to your appa.” Saying, he disconnected.
Ria felt numb. He fiancé didn’t even ask how she was doing… while he was goddamn partying. He was the one who owed her money and never bothered to talk about repaying. Instead he was giving her lessons on finance. But what could she expect from him when her own father didn’t bother to ask about her. Nonetheless she had to arrange for the money transfer. She couldn’t let Pooja suffer. She looked at the time. It was 10 PM. Gaurav must be asleep by now… she found herself shuffling towards his room clutching the phone in her hand. The pain was there but much better considering her plight earlier today.
She knocked at his door tentatively…
After a minute she heard footsteps. She heard the latch being released and he opened the door. And… her eyes widened. Gaurav stood before her wearing nothing but loose white shorts. His chiselled abs which she had only felt through his clothes was now visible… Oh gosh she was bashfully drooling over the fine specimen before her. His eyes were dreamy and his hair was ruffled… there were bed-sheet or pillow marks imprinted on his cheeks and he looked like a lost puppy. She felt guilty about waking him. He must have been tired too.
“Um…sir…I am sorry…”
“What is it Ria? Do you want something? Is your leg…”, he ran a quick gaze over her body. “…Is your leg alright? Are you in pain?”
Ria’s throat clogged. Her folks didn’t care but he was so concerned about her.
“I… I am fine sir… I um …need some help” She said still clutching the phone as if it was her lifeline.
Gaurav opened his door wide. He gestured her in and right then realising his clothes or lack of there off, he quickly wore a loose t shirt as she stood at the door looking away to give him some privacy. “Come on in Ria. You shouldn’t be standing long with that wound. Come in.”
She went inside and looked around; his room was exactly identical to hers. He went to the study table as he switched on the light. His room had the AC on full blast and Ria shivered. He immediately switched off the AC and rushed to put his blanket around her. She was filled with the same citrus scent that was so much…. him. She closed her eyes and inhaled as the unsaid emotions were overwhelming her.
“Uh… Ria?” He called out and she jerked up as if out of a trance.
“Um… sorry…” she chuckled. “…I need some… money. Actually, my father needs money and I can’t transfer right now due to obvious reasons….”
“How much?” He asked interrupting her.
“… actually, my sister is getting engaged in a couple of days so my father needs …” she tried to explain.
“How much Ria… you don’t have to explain. Just tell me the amount and the account details.”
“…th …thirty thousand. I shall repay you as soon as I have access to my laptop.”
“I know you will. Don’t worry. Just give me the account details. The transfer will be done earliest tonight.” He said with his soft voice which caused her insides to flutter.
“Um …ok then …thanks so much.” She stood up and handed over the blanket to him. “I will text you the account details in the next 15 minutes…” Saying she walked out of the room in a daze… all trouble forgotten… with just the image of him in his shorts refusing to leave her mind’s eye. Her fierce attraction to him apart, it was his good heart that had won over her respect …Once again for the umpteenth time he had come to her rescue in the last 24 hours…
Ria woke up next morning with sunlight coming in through the slits in the drapes. It was wonderful to feel the sunshine after what seemed like ages. She checked the time. It was 7AM. She had slept for a good six hours after restless few hours of twisting and turning in her bed and was refreshed. Her immediate thoughts went to the handsome hunk next door… one of the best persons she had ever met and she found herself smiling. But her euphoria suddenly died as she remembered the events from last night. She had reluctantly sent her account details to Gaurav. She would then transfer the amount from her account to her father’s. She didn’t want her father to create an issue over who the guy was, who lent the money. Surprisingly the situation didn’t bother her anymore… it was as if someone had her back for once in her life. She breathed deeply and logged in to her email using the phone given to her. The money had been transferred almost immediately after she had given him her account details. She logged in to the bank site and transferred the money to her father. She went back to her inbox and typed –
Money sent. Email once you receive it. Phones are out.
She took a quick bath taking care of her leg and changed into fresh clothes kept in the cupboard. She made another mental note to thank Gaurav for taking so much trouble. If she counted the number of times she had to thank him, she would have to fill a chasm with its magnitude. She had thought he was a monster… he had proved otherwise and in the current situation, he was her saviour.
In the next half an hour Kalyani got her a lovely breakfast of Kande pohe a traditional Maharashtrian delicacy made of puffed rice along with tea in a glass… Oh how she loved the aroma. It was her favourite…just…bliss! As usual Kalyani only smiled at anything she asked her. Finally, when she came to take the breakfast tray she said, “Dada has said you will be leaving in an hour. The water has totally receded everywhere. You may get ready accordingly. Your clothes were… gone. You may use anything from the cupboard…. whatever you like… They are all new. And… Shamala will be up in a while to dress up that wound” She handed her medicines to Ria.
Ria took her medicines, smiled back and said, “Kalyani, thank you so much for everything. I will just need one set of clothes when I leave. Um… can you at least tell me what place is this? “
Kalyani turned to leave without answering. Ria quickly went after her and stopped her at the door grimacing at the pull in her stiches. “Kalyani …please…”, she said in a voice laden with desperation. “…. I am totally lost. I just…I just …Please tell me.”
Kalyani turned around slowly. She sighed. “Ria didi, this is a shelter for abandoned women and children. It’s owned and run by dada in the name of his late grandmother Girija Devi. He is… he is god to us. I am one of them…I was. He saved me and so many abused and battered women like me. He has saved so many children from being trafficked and most of all he has given us hope….” Unshed tears sparkled in her eyes as she continued.”…. Didi, so many of us here were forced into prostitution. Dada has given us lots of respect and a chance to live our lives with dignity…we got a family in each of us… I …I can’t ever have children after I was… brutalised as a child… but these children here are all mine.” Kalyani beamed and chuckled as she said, “…. you know didi most of us are mini entrepreneurs. When you get a chance, do visit us again. I will take you around and show you our lives here.”
Ria was teary too but pleased and hugged Kalyani. “Kalyani, I will definitely come back again. It will be an honour to know and to acquaint with you all. You all are role models for us. And… Thanks once again for your hospitality”
Kalyani got back and smiled again. She held Ria’s shoulders and spoke looking into her eyes, “I am very happy for dada. He chose well.” She then left the room.
Ria was left standing there, staring at the closed door… He chose her? She could hear her heart beating hard… she was fiercely attracted to Gaurav. And after the last 30 hours, she was in awe of the man. Was she falling for him? She shuddered holding her lapels. But… but that was so wrong. He was her boss for god sake.
Oh My God…Vikram… She now knew what to do.
She quickly changed into fresh clothes and decided to call Vikram after reaching home. Maybe they could meet in a couple of days when she was in a better position to walk… she had to see him. She had succumbed to parental pressure when they had told her, Pooja wouldn’t get any good alliance if she wasn’t married. So, she had reluctantly agreed to marry Vikram. Now, she couldn’t carry on with it any more, she was suffocating... Besides Pooja would be engaged soon… then it wouldn’t matter if she herself was engaged or not. Not to her at least since she planned to move away from her current house. It gave her a strange sense of relief… especially after Kalyani had spoken with her. It was high time she develop a spine. She finally decided to make a clean break with Vikram and… move on. She had got a new lease of life. She decided to live for herself… for once. She would personally meet him and break it off for good.
And no… Gaurav wasn’t the reason behind her resolve…
No…. he wasn’t…. She said to herself……
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