8. Her Story
He closed the window shut, trying to block out the chilly wind, and leaned back on his seat. He looked to his right and found her the same way she was the last time he checked on her.
Her head was plastered to the window as she stared blankly at the moving trees. He cleared his throat, but to no avail. It was as if she was not even with him. Her mind was elsewhere, he concluded, and he tried, really did to make a small talk, but his attempts went futile.
He cleared his throat again, and though it didn’t fetch him any desired reaction from her, it sure made the driver look at him in question, through the rear view mirror.
Giving up, he turned to meet his gaze and asked “How much more time?”
“Less than thirty minutes sir” he heard him reply.
He grunted in response, and eased his posture, leaning back, and closed his eyes.
It’s been forty five minutes since they had hired a cab to Unnao, her place. It was a 75 minute drive, which meant he had less than half an hour with her.
He opened his eyes when that thought crossed his mind. Now where did that come from? He slanted a glance at her and found her in the same posture, and he felt an unknown feeling in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t know what it exactly was, but he swore it was not a pleasant one.
He heard Pradeep—the cab driver’s phone ring and Pradeep’s eyes flicker to his phone with worry. Slowing the car down, he turned to him.
“Sir, I need to take this call. It won’t be long”
Pradeep turned down the engine and walked a few steps away and conversed and by the looks of it, he knew it was from his home.
He heard few fragmented parts of the conversation which mostly dealt with baby, doctor, pain etc. He had observed Pradeep worrying, and shooting questions, and calming down. He averted his eyes from the man, not wanting to act as an intruder, but his eyes had caught something just then and he’d turned to check if he didn’t imagining things.
And he was right, she was staring ahead with a smile and a tender expression on her face, that it tugged the strings of his heart.
Following her gaze to see what exactly had lifted her spirits, he was surprised to find that she was looking at Pradeep. The first reaction he got was surprise, however, a bit of observation showed that she was rather seeing through Pradeep, than at the man itself.
“Care to share the joke?”
He saw her turn rigid, as she faced him, uncertainty in her eyes.
He waited patiently, and his patience paid off ultimately as she replied in a slow voice “What” she said turning to her previous position, looking out of the window, prompting him to follow her “do you see?” she completed.
He trained her eyes to the direction and tried to observe, to see what she did, but could not. All he could see was Pradeep pacing, and a few trucks passing now and then. Apart from that, he can’t pin point any interesting vision.
“What do you see?” he asked her instead.
This time, he saw her smile grow defined when she said “I see a father”
Turning towards his confused expression, she replied “His wife is expecting. And they certainly are worrying about her going into labor anytime soon”
“How do you know?” he asked while she smiled in return.
“You were eavesdropping” he stated incredulously when it hit him finally.
“I’m sensitive to sound” he heard her reply, and found a pinch of irritation, which eased his heart, to find her usual self surfacing. He couldn’t for the life of him see this side of her, all sad and despondent. He rather preferred her emptying his axe bottles and dumping his apples in dung, he realized.
This time both of them heard Pradeep’s frantic voice, and both of them looked towards him, and couldn’t help but understand his panic, while the person on the other side looked as if they were trying to calm him down.
“What the—” he started but was cut off as soon as he faced her. He felt his heart warm at the picture she presented. She closed her eyes, and joined her hands and was silently praying something. His words died down at his lips as he could see nothing but her. The frantic voice of Pradeep and the horns of vehicles that passed them faded away slowly. He averted his gaze from her face, not knowing what was happening to him.
He looked at her once again and found her in the same posture. By now, he knew what she was praying for. He felt a smile tug at his lips. He was not an atheist, not really, but neither was he a devotee of God. He was, however, when he was younger. He and his sister took eager part in every festival they celebrated. However, that changed as time passed. He didn’t entirely lost faith in God, but after that fateful day, he didn’t remember joining his hands together in prayer before him, again. However, today he felt the need to. And hence, he closed his eyes, and bought his hand to his chest, and prayed for the woman’s wellbeing.
Once he opened his eyes, he saw her watching him. He cleared his throat and looked away, feeling awkward of being caught in a posture, he would not like to be seen in.
“You were asking something?” he heard her voice.
He looked at her, and it took him sometime to understand what she was hinting at. She wanted him to complete what he wanted to say.
She saw him frown and then trying to recollect what he wanted to ask. In order to help him, she supplied “You started with What the”
She saw him face her slightly amused, and then his lips were pulled down into a small smile.
“What is the count now?” he asked her.
She faced him and her lips twitched into a small smile too. “Three thousand seven hundred and fifty two”
He tried, really did but couldn’t hold back the laughter that now escaped his lips. She joined him after a few moments.
“I can’t believe you really counted that”
She shrugged “I had nothing better to do then and I was bored, anyway what were you going to ask?”
His smile was still persistent when he spoke this time “I was going to ask what the hell is he doing here when his wife has a due date?”
“Her due date is after a week,” she replied, now facing him “He didn’t see that coming, hence he was so worried now that he can’t be with her”
They sat in silence for few more moments, both of them watching Pradeep, who just sat down, with a hand on his forehead. For reasons unknown he couldn’t help but panic too. He has a sister after all, and he couldn’t imagine what he would do if his own sister was in labor. And here, it was the man’s wife in labor. He could understand what he might be going through.
“Will she be okay?” he asked.
It was a rhetorical question, he wasn’t expecting a reply. Yet, her answer eased his mind a little.
“She will be” she told him “She was already admitted in hospital, and she would be fine, and he’s more worried that he couldn’t be there when she needs him”
He let out a small sigh, and closed his eyes, and when he opened his eyes, he saw her looking at Pradeep with a smile on her face.
“What?” he asked, his sudden voice startling her “What are you smiling at?”
“Wondering how it would be to loved” she sighed “He loves his wife so much” she said with a faraway look. Her words have a tinge of melancholy in them that he felt a prick in his heart.
There were questions plaguing his mind, thoughts swirling in his head ever since she’d the call from Varun. He didn’t want to ask her before in order not to hurt her more. However, now, seeing that faraway look on her face, he made up his mind on what he needed to do.
“You are loved too” he said breaking her chain of thoughts “Isn’t it the reason enough why you’re here at the first place? To go to your boyfriend, what was his name, Varun?”
He saw her going still and lower her gaze, raising the doubts in his mind.
“Varun loves you. Doesn’t he?” he asked, this time his voice sounded a notch higher than he intended to.
He saw her close her eyes in reflex, and take in a deep breath and after a beat or two, she shook her head in negative. He felt a rage, a rage which filled his insides and boiled his blood. He felt his fist clench. So, his doubts turned true, that bastard dumped her, that too when she just left all her family, and was ready to face the disgrace, when she left everything behind her a night before her wedding and left for him. He had cheated her in the worst possible way.
“That bastard” he hissed, as he felt the nerve on his temple throb.
He saw her snap her head at his direction “Don’t” she said shaking her head in denial.
He felt another wave of rage hit him, this time some directed towards her. He didn’t understand how can she just stay put after all that happened and return home? And now was she defending him?
“Defending him are you now? That bastard had ditched you and you’re here backing him? That son of a bit—” he felt her hand press against his mouth, stopping the flow of his words.
“Don’t” she said shaking her head in denial, this time with a pleading voice “You’re getting it all wrong”
He removed her hand from his mouth harshly “Then explain.”
He saw her lower her gaze before spluttering those words out “I… I lied…to…you”
“I… I lied. Varun… he isn’t…my…he…” she hunted for the right words before finally saying “Varun is my batch mate and my best friend. He isn’t my boyfriend”
She felt his gaze on her and lifted her eyes to find him staring at him with an unreadable expression.
“Then?” he prompted her.
She knew what he was asking, she had to answer him. That much she owed him. The man just let go of his flight and accompanied her, just to assure that she’s safe, and this is the least she could do, be truthful to him. Max to max he would find her stupid or mindless or both, but does that matter now? When the people in her life couldn’t understand and empathize with her, how can she expect a random stranger to understand her?
“Do you believe in love?” she asked him.
His immediate reaction was to ask her what kind of a question was that, but he kept his cool. He didn’t reply for several moments, trying to control the raging emotions, and memories of days gone by. Facing her, who seemed to be waiting for his reply, he told her “I used to. But not anymore”
“Because—” his voice came out as a harsh whisper, however he took in a deep breath to control himself and replied in a neutral tone “Because my beliefs were wiped down by circumstances”
A moment of silence passed between both of them. He saw that her head fell back against the seat, as she stared at the car’s roof unblinking. He felt guilty for snapping at her, for no mistake of hers, but demons of one’s past can’t be left behind so easily.
“Life often gives you many reasons to stop believing. Doesn’t it?” he heard her soft voice, which was barely audible.
“Did it to you?”
“Yes” She said now pulling her knees up, hugging them, and resting her chin on them. “I have always believed in love, thought it was the most beautiful thing one can ever experience, but then, I’ve seen some harsh realities of life, which made me double check my opinions, and which shook the ground of my beliefs” she said her eyes fixated at a distant point “Having a lot of cousins, who are very much elder to you is like having an experience of life presented to you in a package.” She smiled wryly “I’ve seen families break, because of silly reasons, can you believe a man who loved a woman and went against his parents to marry her divorced her just because she was obese? Was it her mistake if her whole family has obesity complaint and had she dreamed to be a victim in later stages of life? What was her mistake?” She paused for a moment, and he saw a look of abhorrence pass her face when she continued “But obviously it was sketched as her mistake saying that since she turned ugly, her husband lost interest in her, so long story short, she’s divorced and the bastard remarried”
They sat in a relative silence and it slowly dawned on him why was she disgusted at him at the first place, when he told the reason of him running away from his impending wedding.
“You know what she would have went through, when she was there, in the hospital, all alone, after surviving a suicide attempt?” he heard her voice now and turned to look at her
“She was my eldest cousin, someone whom I always looked upon, but there she was crying, lying helpless in the hospital, blaming herself, for no mistake of hers” She felt a tear trickle down her cheek and wiped it off stubbornly.
“I lost my faith in love then, but that very cousin of mine berated and explained to me that not everyone is ill fated like her, and one single incident shouldn’t change my opinion and when I asked her what she thought about love then, she replied”
“True love is hard to find, and I don’t think his was true love”
“I was fourteen then, but this thing got imprinted in my mind that true love is hard to find and impossible to let go.” She sighed as she continued “So when I got to know that I would be a reason for someone’s heartbreak, when I get to know that my fiancé loved someone else, how would I react? Yes, I could’ve talked to my parents and call this wedding off, but what next? What guarantee does it give for the groom’s parents to give their consent to the girl he loved? So, I chose this way, if the bride disappears a night before the wedding, what’ll happen? There’d be rumors followed by a scandal, but later, there’d be introspection. They might question their own choice, if a girl of their choice can turn out like this, and they might give a chance to their son’s love. And as for me, my family loved me and supported me so far. They would understand and that’s what matters” she paused as she felt the familiar tears prick her eyes “But turns out that my groom loving someone was a joke, a stupid practical joke played on me, just for fun and now they say I over reacted. And here I am, all set to go back, hoping no one should find out that I am missing”
The stubborn tears finally rolled out, and she wiped them off with the back of her hand “You know it hurts to see that a sentiment so close to my heart was made fun of, yes, I crack jokes, play pranks, but I know my limits, I don’t at least touch some sensitive spot as this. Others who were involved in this stupid game, I understand, but Pooja, my best friend cum closest cousin ended up helping them, and since she told me, I believed her blindly and without second thoughts took a rouge step” She closed her eyes and rested her head on her bent knees and after a few minutes, when she finally calmed down she faced him “Sorry to bother you with all this, I don’t expect you to understand, how would you after all, you’ve left your marriage just because your bride is fat?”
He felt those words prick him, and he replied in a low voice this time “I lied”
* * *