Ria had come…. She cared about him…. Gaurav’s heart was doing the flip flops and his eyes well up remembering how Ria had reacted. The last time he was in worse situation yet no one had actually cried for him…not even his mother. This time none of them even stood for him before the media and spoke anything positive or gave any bytes… If he didn’t have a stake in the Chopra group, he would have quit the family conglomerate ages ago. The income funded Parijath besides the reserve left by his maternal grandmother. He could now provide the children good education as well as the SME he had set up for those women had made them independent and they in turn gave back to the society by helping other women in and around the villages. He smiled proudly thinking about the outreach medical program he had started two years ago and his old classmates form MS days pooled in once in a while… he paid them of course but the entire stretch of the village was now having access to quality medical care. He tried to stay out of limelight as much as possible though and luckily considering the bind he was in now, he was glad. At least all that work didn’t stop… Parijath depended on it.
He knew he was in a soup legally but in spite of being in physical pain, he was a happy man. His doe eyed beauty… his warrior princess had come for him. He didn’t want her to… he knew the possible repercussions she would face in the outside world. No wonder his family had stayed clear. In fact, his parents were holidaying in the Bahamas according to Khatiyal and they didn’t want to be reached on phone as well. In a way it was good and he deserved it for what he had put them through twice before… The first time for his alcoholism he was revolting, his young blood pumping up too many emotional upheavals. The second time though he wasn’t at fault and they knew it as well… And they had gone miles to clear him. He had started a new life here and now this after years… good Lord what was His problem with him? He only wanted to be left alone… and now Ria was getting dragged in this mess. She barely knew him or his past but staunchly believed in him to want to fight for him. Her thoughts were the only thing that kept his sanity intact in that filthy place.
Manek and Keith were loyal as always and they knew him for a long time now. Manek and he virtually grew up together. They were classmates in school and Manek was the son of the local electrician and had slogged his way to study after his father had passed when they were barely fifteen. Gaurav’s parents were only too happy to help fund the young boy’s education as he also kept Gaurav in check. Manek was fiercely loyal and that’s what earned him a partnership at Karma. He never gave up on Gaurav even after he had returned to India five years ago totally broken in mind and spirit… and had encouraged him to try out work at the hospital. Manek had been married two years ago and was now on the family way. Gaurav at times envied the man for his simple and settled life… Would he ever get that…? With Ria…? Keith belonged to the wrong side of the town. But years ago, when Gaurav was a medical student, Manek and he had got together for a night cap and were dining out when they had accepted a burly man who had come to rob them, into their fold. They funded his late education and helped him get a job, but he chose to work for Gaurav instead, for that he was now grateful. Keith was now his right-hand man. He was married too and had a young son in school but they stayed at his village in Gulbarga while he was chaperoning Gaurav.
Gaurav’s close relatives were just bearing his existence since he was a workaholic and that helped their social lives. He stayed late, or came in early or took over their duties for them at various locales so they didn’t have to worry about work suffering because of a family function or a vacation. He was not invited to any of their family events for the last five years and he didn’t mind one bit. He wouldn’t know what to converse with the high society crowd anyways. He was wallowing in his own shell before Ria came along like a ray of sunshine three years ago. And today she had given him the brightest hope… He didn’t have anyone genuinely looking out for him unconditionally… until now… until Ria. Her beautiful eyes shone with concern and care. They were honest and selfless.
He didn’t know who was after him because he lived such a low-profile life the last five years. Did his past…? No that wasn’t possible. He hoped Ria didn’t regret her decision because this looked murky… She was a beautiful soul and he wouldn’t taint that. Anyone in his radar would be affected and he didn’t want that for anyone and definitely not for Ria…
Ria looked around the apartment where she was housed for the trial duration… if any or at least till the FIR was squashed, that’s what Khatiyal and team along with Manek were aiming at. She had gone home from the police station to pack her bag and as expected her father had been furious and banged the door behind her back, telling her not to return home. Yet she had been concerned about their safety in the wake of the case going to trial and Manek had assured her round the clock security without them knowing. She had then signed the needed documents as a material witness for the defendant and immediately gone with Manek along with 2 police constables and a forensic expert from the government hospital, to the old hospital building. She was glad influence still worked in some places. The demolition of the old building had been stalled because of the heavy rain and the landslide which had occurred a few days ago. They had a tough time coughing their way up to the third floor and the place got back memories of that night giving her the chills and she immediately worried for Gaurav. Her resolve not weakening she showed Manek and the forensics guy the dried blood in the washroom area as well as the examination room which had the blood traces and the medical kit which lay shut near the table even as the constables looked over with amusement. The sleeping bag too was lying there untouched after they had used it over a week ago. The forensic guy took the video of the entire narrative Ria summed up right from the time she fell to the time she left with Keith. He then gathered all the samples needed and by the time he had got the place sealed, and Manek had dropped her to the apartment it had been late and Karma was up and running because of the weekend. She had had dinner prepared by Keith though she didn’t have the appetite even looking at the lovely curd rice. Was Gaurav getting anything…? Did someone tend to his wounds…? Manek had assured her he was in talks for the same but she wasn’t really sure and worried sick about Gaurav…
Both Manek and Keith had thought it was better she didn’t visit Gaurav so that media didn’t get whiff of her. So, she reluctantly stayed back in this barely done apartment. She had prepared lunch for Gaurav on Sunday morning… wanting to be useful besides worrying herself to an ulcer. She had neatly packed Aalu paratha… which she got to know was his favourite and Keith had prepared Chana masala… she only hoped Gaurav could have them and feel better. She knew she couldn’t direct the winds but she could try to adjust the sails… And when later the tiffin box came back empty with a smiling Keith, she was happy to no end. He also told her Gaurav had been attended to and Manek was staying right outside the station to sneak in every time there was a chance…. courtesy Paranjape. Manek had also arranged dinner for Gaurav which he apparently ate without making a fuss. Manek called her on Sunday night to brief her about the bail hearing on Monday and also thanked her again to infuse life into the case. Meanwhile, the reporters were bored and had thinned. But this would increase coming Monday in anticipation of new juice bytes.
Though Ria had barely slept she couldn’t sleep on Sunday night with worry. Keith gave her company late into the night as they watched TV till, she forced him to retire to bed. She stayed up most of the time with a few winks on the sofa. Next morning, she waited with bated breath with her new phone in hand to hear about what had transpired. The News channel suddenly came on with the information she had been waiting for…
‘… as the reports come in at the special court proceedings today for the Chopra case bail hearing… It is noted that Dr. Chopra who was arrested on Friday with rape charges has now secured bail after a sudden development in the case. The defense has reportedly produced signed affidavit by a material witness who claims to have been with Dr. Chopra on the night this heinous crime was reported to have occurred. The victim or the prosecution are however yet to comment. The case goes to trial in a week from today and it remains to be seen if justice prevails. With the new development coming up the defendant now has a chance to fight and if the inner circles of the police are to be believed they have been rattled. There have also been counter charges by Dr. Gaurav Chopra, of third-degree torture in custody. What will the final outcome of the case be only remains to be seen. The country now awaits with great interest as the case takes a detour….’
Ria heaved a sigh of relief as she sobbed into the throw pillow. Finally, he was out of the hellhole and God willing if things fell in place then he wouldn’t have to set foot there again. Keith texted her that they were getting Gaurav to Karma since there was media parked outside his home. She immediately got busy preparing lunch for all of them and in the next hour she had prepared vegetable pulav and boondi raita, as she waited for them to arrive. She knew Gaurav had a sweet tooth and had prepared the traditional rawa payasam, her mother’s trademark recipe.
Soon the doorbell buzzed and she opened the door to a fatigued Gaurav, still in his torn clothes and a little dried blood on his face. He squinted to look at her supporting himself on the side wall and she moved as Keith and Manek helped him shuffle inside. He plonked himself on the sofa and putting his head on the back rest, he shut his eyes, his, throat wobbling indicating of the effort he took to contain his emotions. Manek nodded and left for his home promising to call later. Keith had to stock the groceries and he left as well… She was left standing alone with Gaurav, her heart breaking to see him so… broken. She saw he had fresh bruises on his arm visible from the torn shirt sleeve and some more burn marks compared to when she had last seen him. He had held his hands in a tight fist… she saw a tear escape the corner of his non swollen eye. That was it… she couldn’t take it anymore. She rushed to the tiny kitchen and took a bowl of water adding antiseptic into it and a clean wash cloth. She approached him cautiously and keeping the bowl on the center table she sat at his foot trying to remove his shoes. She thought he would resist but to her surprise he gave in and it was then she saw bruises on his sole… oh God… she hated Swara with all her heart. His hands were still fisted tightly and she could see his knuckles had grown white. She placed her hands on them and gently made him release them. He held her hands tightly as if his life depended on them, his eyes till closed but he was breathing heavily.
“Sir… look at me… please…” she spoke softly. He took a moment and opened his eyes as he looked at her tears shining in his beautiful blacks. He blinked them away. “…Sir… its over… we will fight this through… You won’t go back… there… it’s a promise….” He just stared at her with a neutral face and she left his hand to take the wash cloth dipped in water and squeezed it. She took it close to his forehead where there was a tiny wound which had started to heal but there was dried blood around it. She touched it carefully as he inhaled an audible breath. She couldn’t control her tears as he shut his eyes again and she tried to wipe away the crusted blood around his wound taking care not to hurt him any more… By the time she wiped his face clean it had taken over fifteen minutes and his eyes were still shut. But he looked better than when he had just entered. She changed the water and attended to his hands. Luckily there were no open wounds… As she tried to wipe his feet, he suddenly withdrew them from her hands. “…No… NO Ria… NO… please don’t…” He stood up balancing himself on the sofa headrest as he tilted and she immediately went upto him.
“…Sir why don’t you take a bath… I will have the lunch ready… You… um… you need the strength… don’t you…?” She tried to use a chirpy voice trying to brighten his mood. He nodded as he shuffled his way to one of the two little bedrooms. She was put up in the other. She rushed behind him and searched for the bath towel and fixed it on his bathroom door handle. She then went back to the kitchen and reheated the lunch for him. She knew things would have been worse if she hadn’t intervened here and thanked God for helping her make the right decision. She waited in the drawing room for over half an hour but there was no sign of him. She walked tentatively towards his room and knocked but there was no answer. Worried she turned the knob and opened the door only to find him fast asleep wearing only the bath towel around his hip. He snored softly and looked at ease and she had no heart to disturb him. He looked like a small kid who had just got back home after a school picnic and had slept off. Speaking of picnics, she remembered her mother rubbing coconut oil to her soles when she would return from school outings saying it was a good pain reliever. Would it help here too? She wanted to try and rushing to the kitchen she got oil and sat at the foot of the bed. She took a little oil in her palm, rubbed her palm and started to rub the oil on his sole…. He stirred but she kept at it. Eventually he slept off oblivious to the other foot getting the rub too. As she covered him with the comforter kept on the side, she just hoped he would get the relief and looked at his serene face before she left shutting the door behind her.
Gaurav let his breath out when he heard the door click. He was a total goner. If only life were that simple, he would never have let Ria go… No one in his miserable life did so much for him like what she had done. She had tried to heal him… his heart needed healing and she was the right medicine. She had been the rock they all needed. He had seen the change in Manek and Keith’s demeanor too ever since she had come forward to become the witness… For all his bravado, he was failing miserably at tolerating the torture meted out to him and he didn’t know why, as yet. He had lost all hope and had thought he was doomed having no interest in fighting back when Ria had appeared and pumped him up… Starting tomorrow he would get headlong into the case. He would see to it that the truth saw the light of the day.
He was forever indebted to Ria for saving from that pathetic place and only hoped he wouldn’t have to go back. He saw Ria looking at him with feelings pouring out of her beautiful eyes. He wondered if Ria would still feel the same for him if she got o know about his rotten past which was worse that what she had just witnessed… He had seen she was shaken and hoped she wouldn’t totally break… not on his conscience…
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