Ria was in a confronting mode… she spoke to herself to pep her up even as her eyes filled and she had to shut her eyes taking in deep breaths to keep them at bay. Her gut feeling told her Gaurav was not in the wrong but probably was himself wronged. She visited the terrace garden to be amidst nature for a while and went back to her room and switched on her laptop. She inserted the pen drive given by her uncle…and with trembling hands she clicked on the first file.
The next hour Ria was immersed in reading the contents of the pen drive. It had four files and she opened each one reading each and every line. There were newspaper cuttings, online news articles, pictures of his partying, pictures of his marriage… Pictures of a glowing mother to be… pictures of a charred body… and pictures of his arrest with a hood covering his head as he was led away by the police. Ria shuddered as she saw it.
There were articles on the trial too. All led to the fact that Gaurav was the killer and he was to face a tough sentence. Suddenly the lead witness turned hostile and Gaurav was acquitted. There were many follow up articles from a couple of other newspapers which painted him a villain. Ria rubbed her eyes as she read the last article…
‘The secret life of the Chopra group scion‘
The article mentioned his love for flamboyance, BDSM… unnatural sex and portrayed another side of him. The clinical psychologist who had been interviewed said something about the subconscious interference in his day to day life and the practice may have created a monster. Apparently, Gaurav suffered from some kind of a psychological condition where he couldn’t separate real and virtual. The article also spoke about the need to contain such people in shackles and institutionalized as they posed a massive danger to the society and women at large.
Surprisingly Ria wasn’t crying instead her blood boiled and she was analytical. She wanted to view everything with a clear mind.
As Ria closed the laptop she remembered the moments spent with Gaurav before and after their marriage. Though he was mean towards her before the rainy night he had never demonstrated any kind of behaviour mentioned in those articles. She herself belonged to a field where she was trained to identify such behaviours… That particular night had changed everything. Was it all a show as her uncle said?
She remembered that day at the bungalow … when she had suggested they stay in the same room. He had been angry all of a sudden and spoken in a terse voice that she had not heard before. Then the red room… it had terrified her. But he had been understanding and had never brought up the topic again. He had taken care of her when she was injured. He had been a caring husband…. all through their marriage so far. How could someone be so fake? No… She thought aloud…her conscience pushed her to believe in him. She sighed and stood up to use the washroom when she suddenly remembered the texts she had received in the first couple of days of her marriage. The text had warned her too. Everyone spoke about Gaurav’s secrets. Besides, there was this issue of him not sharing a bed after sex… not sleeping with her through the night. She was yet to see him unclad …for crying out aloud.
Then… there were those nightmares…
Her husband was indeed a mystery. It was time she found out the truth about him, especially now that his past was to be raked up in a very horrid manner if Chitthappa was to be believed. Gaurav didn’t still seem to be ready to share anything as yet and she had to know so-called facts from other avenues before coming to any judgement of her own. It was now important for her to start with a blank palate and fill it with her own colour combinations.
Ria scanned through her SMS history and unblocked that number. She then messaged,
‘Does the offer still stand?’
Immediately there was a reply…
‘Thank God. Yes, it does.’
‘Shall we meet then?’
After what seemed ages there was a reply,
“yes… meet me the day after tomorrow at the central mall food court at 11AM. It’s busy at that time. Come to the Pick me up restobar, take the table at the left corner and order a fresh lime soda. An old woman in green will join you as the place gets full. I will arrange for it. That entourage of yours won’t suspect a thing. “
That was planned well, Ria thought
‘Fine … see you day after @ 11AM’
Finally, the sender had typed,
‘yes… and please delete these messages for your own safety’
Ria shuddered as she deleted the message thread. Was she doing the right thing? Was she actually suspecting her husband? She felt anything but virtuous at the moment…even as Swara’s words kept ringing in her ears… and a surge of insinuation ran through her body and she eventually went to bed with the feeling laying heavy on her heart.
That night as she slept, she heard a soft tentative knock and she knew it was him. A quick glance at her cell phone told her it was 3AM. She pretended to sleep…though the only thing she desired… was to be in his arms. He didn’t knock again and she slept off again after a long time, tears soaking her pillow as she did… her heart broke into a zillion pieces.
The next morning Ria woke up at 8AM wondering how she would face him today. A look at her swollen eyelids in the washroom vanity mirror made her wonder if he would doubt her? As far as she was concerned, he read her like an open book. She hoped she could hide her emotions from him for a couple of days at least…she had to be strong if eventually she had to get deep into this mess and unearth the truth. She joined him for breakfast and gave him a bright smile. She sat away from him across the table getting busy with the motions of scanning through the newspaper or making small talk with him trying to keep up their regular camaraderie. His eyes followed her movements from the go but he barely spoke to her. She asked him about his trip… He brushed aside the topic and kept staring at her as she picked at her food. She was hiding her heart but discovered she didn’t have the skills for it, not when she was riddled with anxiety and she was split wide open.
After breakfast Ria excused herself saying she had to work on finalizing designs for her center and left for her room. Thankfully Gaurav didn’t stop her and he soon left for work too.
Something was amiss…. drastically fallacious… with Ria’s demeanour.
Gaurav mulled over what had ensued that morning … in fact well before that, as he stared into the laptop screen at work. For the last hour he hadn’t done anything constructive at all. He had postponed a couple of important meetings and since Karuna was back from sick leave she handled the rescheduling like a pro. At least something was going well for him. The hospital was all set to get a special humanitarian award which would increase the share price and also lure the best practitioners to join their other branches… something he always wanted. The charity surgeries were being talked about often but he saw to it that the hospital name in general was out and not his. He would now get some more funding for the noble cause. He had first got the news yesterday in Kolkata and had immediately wanted to share it with Ria… He had been thrilled and wanted to celebrate with her especially since he planned to cut short his visit and surprise her at night. But she hadn’t answered her phone or replied to his messages and then Keith had told him about her being upset…
Though Ria tried to keep up a facade of normalcy before him, he knew something was troubling Ria. He only wished he knew how to find out… Keith was trying too but couldn’t do more without making her suspicious. He had mentioned about her ‘uncle’ being there when he had dropped Ria at her home yesterday. He had apparently spoke to a nosy curious neighbour who was only too willing to spill information about Ria’s family and the new visitor. Ria had informed him earlier evening about visiting her parents but failed to mention the uncle…. Did she do it on purpose or was she clueless as well…? She was a different person today. Gaurav knew about her relationship with her parents well by now and though she missed them occasionally, she wouldn’t be affected by them to this extent. The uncle had something to do with it and he was sure now. He had to find out… After an hour of trying unsuccessfully he called Manek.
“Ya….” Manek answered. He sounded haggard.
“What’s up buddy? You sound like shit.” Gaurav chided. He knew Manek was a new father and was struggling with the sleepless nights. Megha was suffering from Low BP after a tough labor. He felt like a jerk for troubling him…but he could think of no one else.
“Go fuck yourself buddy… (yawn)… so what is it…?” Manek asked sounding sleepy.
“I need some classified information…on Ria’s paternal uncle. I have only managed to find out a first name. Ashok. Ria doesn’t have any active social media accounts. Naren is MIA so got his right hand man here to get on it but needed you to cross verify as well… I got a grainy picture from Pooja’s social media page. I am sending it on your email address. Can you help out on this …?”
“… I will get to it (yawn) immediately. Naren is here in Delhi working on your case man…and that’s a blessing… I will coordinate with him…Give me an hour… two max….”
“… Oh great… thank God…Ya… thanks. I know you will do it. Call me when you are done. I will make it up to you man!” Gaurav rubbed his face.
“Ya…I will hold on to that the next time this little bundle wakes up fresh at 2AM. Her Gaurav uncle can pacify her…”
“Ok…ok…” Gaurav chuckled, “I give up…bye…”
He disconnected the call and saw Manek’s profile picture. He had held his day old daughter and proudly stared into the camera. Gaurav wondered if he would ever get that chance… would he be a good example for his child. As soon as he thought about a child, a picture of a heavily pregnant Ria swam before his eyes… and he rubbed his face again as pangs of desolation clutched his heart.
He had to settle this unseen tension between them…then open up his life before her. She deserved to know…everything. But could he handle her rejection? No… He didn’t think so. He shuddered at the very thought.
The hour long wait for Manek’s call was a test of his patience. He paced across the room in his office when not going through his reports… He almost called Ria about ten times. Each time, he stopped the call even before it connected. He knew Manek-Naren combo would find out information for him. Meanwhile he was drowning in despair…
Soon his phone rang….it was Manek.
“Hmm…” he answered.
“You are not going to like this…”
“…just tell me” He was impatient.
“Her uncle is Ashok Chandran… a decorated CBI officer mostly involved in highly classified missions….”
Gaurav’s heart was thumping. This definitely couldn’t be good…
Manek continued “…He was the batch mate of… Lieutenant Abdul Ansari… when they were training in high combat years ago in the US. On returning to India, he joined CBI after a brief stint with the CRPF. Rather he was selected due to his super tactical skills and he mostly works undercover. Abdul Ansari apparently returned back to his country Dubai and joined their police force…special crimes… does it light a bulb?”
Of course, it did. Abdul Ansari was the chief investigation Officer when he was almost convicted. He still remembered Ansari’s thunderous reaction when he was acquitted… the man had declared he would find Gaurav from any corner of earth he would disappear to and destroy him… Gaurav started to palpitate like he always did whenever he remembered or dreamed about those days.
“…Gaurav… you there…?” Maneks voice got him back on track.
“Go on…” he whispered.
“… it’s like this. The uncle gets in touch with Ansari’s office clandestinely when he finds out about your link in Dubai. Being in CBI and known to Ansari has its perks… Ansari’s office gives him, dirt on you. Both…the documents as well as his very colourful personal opinion of you… Uncle returns home and meets Ria. Now, I am sure something must have happened or you wouldn’t have called me. …you need to watch your six, buddy… be careful. The uncle is one determined soul. I spoke to someone on Ansari’s team…. confidentiality maintained of course and off the record. What he said was not good. Ansari is planning vengeance to somehow get you in trouble…just like he promised… Naren is digging deeper to check other connections… I will need to look more into this…”
Gaurav stared into space as he heard Manek.
“…Just so you must know, Sujata…Your…er… wife Shilpi’s sister has been in Pune for a while now over a year actually… She has been asking around and digging dirt. Naren got an alert on the search engine activity two weeks ago and yesterday as well. You need to pull up your socks man…. Tell Keith to be vigilant…. I will be there ASAP. Naren had posted extra men outside your high-rise…We will handle this…don’t worry. Ok…?”
“…Yeah… thanks…” Gaurav said and disconnected. It was an overwhelming deluge of anger, resentment and helplessness. But what worried him more was Ria’s reaction to everything that transpired in his past as well as whatever would happen in future. That was the main reason he couldn’t open is past before her. He couldn’t make out anything from her behaviour today. He was so lost… and would be even more if she left him….
He didn’t think he could survive this fresh shipwreck…
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