the horses…

Chapter 23

She was in love…

The feeling of being light headed… with the rise of her heartbeats accompanied by a smile plastered on her face… without even her realizing that, was something Ria was not accustomed to. She remembered one of her favourite songs… ‘Chaahe tum kuch naa kaho maine sun liye… ke saathi pyaar ka maine chun liya…’

Ria felt she was on the seventh heaven and in a dreamland from where she didn’t want to return. After what seemed like ages and sleep miles away, she got off the bed and went to the window. She didn’t fancy AC and opened the sliding windows letting the cool night breeze on her face along with a few drops of drizzle. She loved to inhale the fresh fragrance of the mud and the overall aroma of simplicity and lessons in humility she had just been taught tonight. She heard some sound and looked down to the open little garden where she had seen children play during her last visit. She saw Gaurav doing his running… he was in a sleeveless vest and running shots, not caring about the mild rain as he ran in rounds only stopping to catch his breath. He then emerged out of the garden and ran towards the road going outside. He wouldn’t go outside the premises at this hour… at 1AM. There was only one place she could think of… the equestrian farm.

She didn’t know what got into her, she couldn’t sleep anymore after what she had just discovered earlier. She knew he felt something for her as well… but now was not the time for her to talk to him. Nonetheless, she changed into her jeans and T shirt, and walked downstairs hoping not to make sound enough to wake someone up. She left from the main entrance and started to walk towards the road he had taken. She kept walking and suddenly felt the drizzle increase. There was no tree lining the road and she was a little scared to stand in the adjoining bushes in the dark. Though the couple of street lights were on, they weren’t bright enough and the rain started to affect the visibility. Should she go back… she wondered. But her heart said otherwise and she kept walking…. Somehow only wanting a glimpse of him. Was he OK? Given all that had transpired…That was her only thought at that moment. By the time she reached the farm gates she was drenched and was shivering because of the cold. She opened the gate and walked in. Though the illumination was not all that appreciable she could make out the light around what looked like barns at the corner of the stud farm. The ground was soft with rain and made a splash-like sound as her feet fell on it and she was scared for a moment wondering if she made a mistake and what if she got stuck in the mud… there would be no one to hear her… even if she screamed the now pouring rain would mute her cries. Fortunately, she made it to the end of the slushy ground uneventfully and reached the cemented land. She was shivering as she got further drenched but her single minded determination to see Gaurav pushed her to go further.

She stepped into the stable’s area which had a little roof outside the stables too so she rushed in immediately. She came across the first table and peeped in and her heart caught… It was a beautiful sight to see a mare with her foal. The mare was resting and the foal which looked like a few days old was struggling to stand. In spite of the cold Ria felt better and chuckled at the foal’s meek attempt to balance itself on its thin legs. She moved further but was caught in her steps as she felt sudden rush of hot breath blow on her face… It sounded like a loud burp… and it scared her as she took a few quick steps backwards not seeing the unevenly cemented land before she fell on her back screaming in fright. She stood up and looked down at her clothes plastered to her body now muddy as well… She laughed at her condition and looked up to see the head of a huge brown horse looking down at her. He was stunning though… she stood there as he produced some sound…like a nicker…a soft huh-huh-huh– sound. She went a little closer and given her height she had to crane her neck to look at him. “Hey handsome… not sleepy as well…?” As if the horse understood, he blew on her again and this time it was ticklish making her laugh as well.

“…He is a flirt… just expecting something from you… don’t go by his looks…”

She was startled and turned around to see Gaurav standing right behind her. He had worn his tracksuit and had a bunch of carrots in his hands. “…Here…” He handed them over to her. “… give it to the bugger… by the way he is Shiva…” She looked wide eyed at the large juicy carrots fear seeping into her at the prospect of putting them in the large beast’s… mouth!

“…Um… sir… I…I…” Shiva silenced her by blowing yet again and she couldn’t help but laugh. It was then she saw Gaurav was smiling too… for the first time ever since she had seen him, he was actually smiling. He drew his hands in his hair and looked away…. Oh God the bossman blushed too!!! He turned back to her. “…Ria… do you want to stay in these clothes here all night…? Else give them to him and we can get going…”

“…I…I am sca…scared, sir…”

“…here let me help you….” He held her hand and raised it towards the brumby stallion and before she could realise the effect of his touch the greedy animal sucked the carrots out of her hand and he left the hold. “…see…? that wasn’t difficult at all…” he said as she looked at him watching the horse with pride filled eyes.

Suddenly he turned to look at her in all seriousness. “Ria… what are you doing here… its almost 2PM…”

“…I …I couldn’t sleep… and then I was at the window and I saw you run this side… I was kind of worried so came to…um… check…”

He sighed and held his hands on his hips. Was he going to reprimand her now…? Well she deserved it for her stupidity… she shouldn’t have come. “…I…I am sorry sir… I shouldn’t… I will… g..g..go back…” As she turned, he held her hand and pulled her back towards him. She banged against his hard chest as he looked into her eyes. “That’s the…wrong direction… you will fall in the ankle- deep water gathered there and hurt yourself… the land…is… uneven…” He almost whispered, his warm breath a welcome intrusion on her face with the cold breeze ruthlessly drying her wet skin. Not to mention his voice making her insides quiver… All she wanted to do was just hug him as she was reminded of that early morning moment in the old hospital building… His hard-muscular body against hers as he had held her… She gasped and looked away as he released her hand slowly. She nodded not able to look into his eyes… he indicated her to follow him as he took another direction. She didn’t dare to look anywhere except watch her steps on the uneven cement floor of the stables. He went to a little house. House …? He opened the door and she followed him to the beautiful drawing room…just like she had seen in those cow-boy movies. She watched in awe at the sparsely furnished room, beautifully decorated shelves full of medical books and books on …of course…horses.  She saw a showcase filled with medals and trophies… were they his…? Finally, she saw a young Gaurav with a medal on a horse in a beautiful sandalwood photo frame… the photograph was taken in a horse show.  He looked so carefree… a far cry from the omnipresent worry and frown wrinkling his handsome face today. She heard him come back to the room from wherever he had disappeared to holding a towel and a bathrobe in his hand.

“Here…take this… uh… there is a tiny bathroom… not much though and the water is cold… I…uh… actually there is no heating facility. Just get out of those…clothes… you will be sick by morning… The foreman will be here by 4AM. I…uh… have texted him to come ASAP… and bring the jeep along…. We can then leave quickly… Till then… uh… make do… with this… and… there are blankets…”

“…Its… alright …sir… I am fie… I will manage… Thank you…” Why was he nervous, she wondered as she took the towels and robe and went in. Right ahead was the bathroom… and as he had mentioned it was tiny… tinier than the one she had back at home. Home… As she took off her ruined clothes, she remembered her folks with a pang of sadness as her eyes filled… surprisingly she missed them. Would Appa have taken his BP medication? Would Amma be rubbing her soles with that awfully smelling ayurvedic oil that she had ordered last month?  Would Pooja be chatting up late into the night with her beau? And… would they be remembering her as well…? She splashed chilled water on her face to send those thoughts to the back of her mind… she had to live in the moment and her moments all sucked big time. She couldn’t even talk two straight words without fumbling when he was around… how would she reveal her feelings to him? He had closed himself shut with tough walls erected around him… any emotion would find it difficult to penetrate. But it was important for her to know what he felt for her. She knew in her heart he did feel something… but was it enough…? She had compromised all her life and had acquired her independence with great difficulty. She couldn’t lose it all for someone who didn’t reciprocate her feelings… she thought, as her heart fell. She would move the heavens for him…he had to know that by now but if she had to give up everything, she had to know about his feelings first hand. And there was that aura of mystery surrounding him… she always wondered why… why a man who was so caring and selfless, good looking, well qualified and not to mention loaded… yet to settle in life. He was the perfect marriage material then why was he still single?

She finished washing herself the cold water relaxing her and suddenly sleep came rushing with a vengeance. She came to the drawing room in a daze, wearing the robe which was just touching her knees and Gaurav who was staring at the dark world outside the window turned around. The drawing room was lit up by the tiny LEDs locate in different sockets in wooden panels along the walls and though it wasn’t strong enough she couldn’t miss the molten look in his eyes as he stared at her. All sleep gone her heart raced as she felt self-conscious and tugged at her robe. He walked slowly towards her, his eyes not leaving eye contact as they stared intently into hers. Oh Heaven Almighty… what was he doing…? Her heart threatened to race out of her thoracic cavity as he came close towering over her almost touching her. He raised his hand and moved it towards her face and she closed her eyes shut. She could feel her breath catch in her throat. But after a couple of seconds she felt him move away and opened her eyes… he held a blanket in front of her. He cleared his throat… “…Uh…Ria… I had kept this for you. This place doesn’t have a bedroom so you will have to make do with the couch. Besides it just a couple of hours before the foreman arrives. See if you can catch a few winks….” He looked away and back into her eyes yet again as if he wanted to say something more. But he turned around and walked away.

Ria was confused and as she wrapped the blanket around her, she looked at his back facing the window. Sleep was just not possible now… She sat on the only couch; legs tucked in as she stared at the photo frame. She moved to a corner of the leather and picked up the frame. She felt the other end dip as he sat and she kept the photo away… “…Um…Sorry sir… I… it was just… cute kid…” She looked back at the picture. Was she stoned? What was she talking?

“…Oh, that was taken after I won the first ever equestrian race… I won about five state level tournaments… those trophies are from those victories…” He pointed at the shelf as she looked in wonder. Wow… this was something else.

“…Um…your love for horses is evident by what you do here… how many do you have…?”

He looked at the window again as if in thought and said. “…at the moment we have 8 of them… they come and go… I don’t own anyone except Shiva…. The stallion was useless after his days at the derby and … Destiny got us together…” He looked at Ria, turning towards her his hand on the backrest almost touching her. She must have had some strange expression on her face. “…Uh…I mean… Shiva was going to be put down but as fate had it, I got him out and its two years that he is here… flirting around with every female… horse or otherwise…”

She laughed and saw him smile as well and wished this moment could never end. “So… who are these other horses…I saw that mare in the first one with her foal…”

He stood up and held his hand out. “Come on since sleep sounds remotely possible you as well can meet them…” She looked into his eyes looking at her like an expectant kid wanting to show his new toy… and her heart soared. God, she loved him so much… she placed her palm in his and stood up carefully holding the blanket around her. He found her a pair of shoes large for her feet but that had to do. They walked towards the first stable where she had seen the mother and the foal.

“…that’s Sonia… and her foal, Prince, is two weeks old. Don’t go by the appearance… he can actually run quite a bit, better than average. His father was a high category derby king… He has good genes to make it big one day… Belongs to a collector. They will be gone next month…” As if acknowledging him the mare snorted and the foal took a few awkward steps back and forth and tried to nudge his mother. Both Ria and Gaurav chuckled at its antics to seek attention.

They next moved to Shiva who was present with eagerness written all over. “Later boy…” Gaurav rubbed his nose and they moved to the next stall. There were two young horses, one sat and the other stood as if he didn’t care they were there. He was making some kind of a strange sound as he stood in all elegance chewing a sugarcane.

“Why is he making that noise… is he hurt…?” Ria asked.

“…No…not hurt. He is actually cribbing…” at her surprised look he explained. “… actually, horses who have been confined to small areas like these can develop a peculiar habit of cribbing or wind-sucking in order to get a “high.” They put their teeth on something firm like a board or this hard sugarcane then suck in air. It makes a really weird burp noise…”

Wow he knew so much about them. He told her some more stuff and she saw his demeanor had changed totally and he was extremely relaxed… a far cry from the perennially tensed ambiguous man. She let him talk as he explained how horses were actually silent animals and communicated in silence amongst themselves. He spoke on how they were disciplined and the importance of a herd in disciplining the younger colts.

He then explained the business as he showed the three other stables with horses. “…We actually help maintain the horses for their owners. We take care of them in every way and then whenever the owners are ready, they take them away. There is a huge equestrian farm up ahead near Chinchwad… sometimes when they run full house, they send across some this side… couple of months ago there were 15 of them… it was tough and we had to hire extra hands… but it was fun as well…”

“…so all this land spread here is used for these horses…?”

“…Yea…” he drawled with hand sin his pockets as he rocked back and forth on his heels. “…We also hold equestrian sports and camps for the underprivileged children. This is a beautiful sport with teaches a lot about the dynamics of the human-animal relations… and how trust goes either way…” He had a faraway look in his eyes.

“… why…um…why did you give up racing…?” Now where did that question come from… she didn’t know herself. Would he clam up now?

“…Racing was just a hobby… I wanted to be a doctor … a surgeon… But I love them… the horses….” He looked at the horses as they walked towards Shiva’s stable. “… They help us understand Growth… That…Growth is not something to be quantified. It is not a number you key into your book of accounts or a numerical you flaunt… Growth is a plethora of emotions that you imbibe in you as you go about your mundane tasks…”

Wow that was intense. He made a lot of sense metaphorically speaking… the passion in his work was evident in his voice.

“…A horse teaches us how to overcome obstacles and carry ourselves in the face of adversity…” He drawled on. “…they are the most perceptive beings…”

They reached Shiva’s stable and he opened the gate, letting the mighty tall stallion out and he was… limping slightly… Gaurav rubbed his hands over the animal’s mane and Shiva seemed to like it from the way he tried to nozzle his head towards Gaurav. “…come Ria… touch him… don’t be scared… he is gentle…all bark and no bite… right big man…?” As if answering Shiva gave a gentle breathy squeal and she moved towards it smiling tentatively. “…Just relax Ria… horses sense our body language and emotions… they are far more intelligent than we give them credit for…” She touched Shiva’s mane and his squeal grew weak… she was surprised but Gaurav joked that was because Shiva liked her touching him!!

“…Ok Big man… time to rest… we have to exercise that leg tomorrow right…?” Gaurav patted Shiva and turned him around back into his stable.

As he came towards her again she asked… “What happened to his leg…?”

“…In his last match about two and half years ago he was hurt as he fell… the owners lost a lot of money betting on him and they gave him away to some center… There was no proper care for the injury and the contractures developed causing permanent damage…Do you know Ria…? They were to put him down. My friend who is a vet was called to euthanize him… But when he called me, I went there along and one look at Shiva… and I knew he had to be saved. I brought him form the center… but by then he had quietened beyond repair…”

She looked at him astonished as if he were describing an abandoned human. He looked at her with the same intense eyes and strong facial expression. “… the most important form of communication among horses is awareness… Horses are extremely sensitive to some humans they trust…But if the human is not receptive, the horses will very likely quit talking and may also lose some of the trust and respect they might have had for that individual…” His face relaxed as he sighed. “…That’s what happened with Shiva… he was emotionally broken… the individuals with whom he had placed his trust… his owners, his jockey… they all deserted him…kind of stabbed him in the back…” Ria didn’t know now if Gaurav was talking about Shiva or himself.

“…Sir… Shiva is lucky to have found you… you gave him a new lease of life…” She tried to make things lighter.

“…That’s because he deserved it Ria…Not just to live but… a Chance to love… everyone Ria… just Goddamn everyone deserves a chance to love…to be loved…” He spoke abruptly and a little louder, looking at her with a strange emotion shining in his eyes.

Suddenly…as if out of a trance he looked away… turned and walked back to the house. As she stood there holding the blanket breathing in the fragrance of the rains mixed with the mixture of the stables’ smells like grass, hay, weeds, peppery leather, greens… it was intoxicating and she wished she could just stay here and savor every moment….

She looked towards the house and realised that the dynamics of their relationship…if one could call it… had just changed…

Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dead or any community is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.

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