DALD – Chapter Eleven (Last)

  1. Fate Lines

 

 

The room is as I had remembered it when Rudr was living in. The only difference is that though his suitcases and some of his stuff he left back then remained, they were packed and not spread out in the room, giving the impression that the inhabitant was only moving away, after packing his stuff.

 

The only thing that remained as is was the old stove.

 

Though Rudr was a paying guest and mom insisted he have food with us, Rudr liked to cook for himself and only occasionally sat with us for lunch or dinner. As I sit on the bed, the clothes I had carried, placed next to me, I look at him, whose back is to me, working on something in the kitchen.

 

I see his back muscles moving, his hands busy slicing something. I hear the slicing and dicing, and see the polythene covers that were spread out on the counter, showing that he had just bought them from the grocery shop, for whatever reason.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“What am I doing here, or what am I doing now?”

 

Though he says it casually, the meaning isn’t lost on me.

 

“You’re always welcome in this house and you know that.”

 

He stops whatever he is doing and turns to me “I do” he says briefly.

 

Something in his eyes clear and I realize it was the first time he is here, after he left all those years ago, without as much a goodbye. Like always, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was so easy to leave all that and go in a jiffy. I know he left to prove himself a point, but still the niggling doubt that all of this; this home, these people might not have mattered as much to him, all this love by my family and me might not be reciprocated in equal fervor… these doubts keep niggling in the back of my head.

 

“You do?” I ask, twisting the two words doubtfully hence.

 

“I do” he repeats himself. “It is easy to leave when you know you come back to it eventually” he said and as his words, open to interpretation had been left alone in the air that hung between us, he turned his back to me, switching off the stove and pouring something he made into a bowl.

 

Walking towards me, he goes on his one knee, and taking the lone shirt that was in my hands I was crumpling, he puts it away and extends a bowl to me.

My surprised eyes met him, as I realize with a thudding heart why he had gone to all the heights of cooking.

 

For me…

 

As the warm ceramic bowl touch my hands, giving me goosebumps, he says “Chicken noodle soup. Good for the cold”

 

I take the soup from him, without rising my eyes scared as I was that I might end up showing the deep agony I feel in my heart to him.

 

He walks to the door, his back to me and stands looking out, at the falling dusk.

 

As I feel the first sip of the extremely delicious soup on my tastebuds, I feel my eyes close and fill up on their own accord.

 

He was not too easy with words, but his gestures like these show me time and again that he cared. But that was what it was. He cared, and I loved.

 

I can’t ask more from him, and can’t give anything less to him.

 

I feel my gut twist painfully as I look at his back, and wipe my tears with my sleeve before he could see.

 

This was not what I could handle right now. This underlying care, these unspoken words, these conflicting emotions… I was too tired to run in a maze of emotions.

 

“Rudr… I–” I say even though it kills me to put the soup down, as I know how much of an insult it is to leave something he made for me without as much as tasting it properly.

 

“I have to leave” I say brokenly but I make no effort of getting up as I feel drained of energy, fighting a losing battle.

 

He says nothing, and I almost believe he didn’t hear me.

 

“Why Nisha?” he asked.

 

Something about his voice made me look up at him.

 

“You have to leave when there’s no option of staying back” I say and he turns back at me and just watches me, his face reflecting nothing as golden light from the bulb on the balcony bathes his exquisite features aglow.

 

I stare at for an extended moment, her face contorted in pain, her eyes with unshed tears.

Five years ago, on a day similar to this, I looked at this familiar face, but that day had changed everything for me.

 She was sitting in the living room with Sahil by her side, her face screwed up in great concentration, her recently cut hair framing her face sweetly as she tried reading her brothers’ palm.

 “You do not complete a task at one setting” she said scrunching up her face “In fact you leave things midway and pursue something else.”

 “Hey!” Sahil said, annoyed, while she grinned up at him cheekily “Wow. That really is true, isn’t it?”

 “You’re making that up”

 “Really, read it yourself and tell me then” she said pushing the palm back to him with an air of haughtiness, that came from confidence of knowledge Sahil wasn’t privy to.

At Sahil’s annoyed face, she grinned and stuck her tongue out. 

I saw Sahil’s frown and knew that a taunt was coming. And I know that if not intervened, this would lead to the next battle the world will know.

I make my presence noticeable by walking in their line of vision. While Sahil looks at me, almost relieved, the look on her face, is surprise mingled with faint signs of a blush, which she covers by looking away, and maintains a poker face.

“Rudr!” Sahil calls for me, as he pulls a chair next to him for me to sit even though his entire attention is on his sister.

“If you are not a fraud and can actually know an iota of palmistry, read Rudr’s hand” he says “So that your personal judgements won’t cloud the actual reading”

The color in her face drains away as she looks at me in alarm.

“Sahil, we will be late for the match” I say trying to distract him, catching on her pale face, which told me enough that she wouldn’t wish to pursue it.

“Match isn’t as important as seeing my little holier than thou sister prove a point. Isn’t it Nishu?” he asks pulling her cheek, to which some of her usual ferociousness comes back, as she scowls at him and pulls my hand into hers, not caring her awkwardness about doing the same couple of minutes before.

Her forehead marrs deep thinking lines depicting her concentration. Her palms are feather soft as they touch mine, and her one finger touch my thumb as she mutters in a trance like voice, almost to herself. 

“Long, wide thumb. Hmm” she says in that enchanted voice “Exceptionally strong will power. High determination” she says and looks at me, her eyes aglow with a smile.”

With her finger, she tried to push it back and when it did bend backward to certain extent but not so much, she smiled more. “Rigid and stubborn and set on what you want. Yet, not so much inflexible to be closed to other’s opinions. More on the stubborn side, but oh well, sometimes you do give others’ opinions a thought” she said and grinned indulgently at me, as if it is only natural; as if she had not known that this is the first time she looked at me eye to eye and not turn her eyes away, with a faint blush. 

“Why did you not tell me what represents what” Sahil asks.

“Because you never let me finish one word to being with” she says exasperated.

 Looking at Sahil’s grumpy face, she says “Fine I won’t go in so much detail that you die here and now of pure jealousy.”

Turning towards me, she asks “What do you want to know” 

“Love life” Sahil said. 

“Success” I said automatically, even though I do not believe in palmistry to begin with, and was putting with this only because I was pushed into this. 

She sat with crossed legs, one palm cupping her cheek and looked on thoughtfully.

 “Difficult times lie ahead. Success won’t come easy.”

 “Will it come at all?” Sahil asked bored.

 “It will” she hissed at Sahil. Looking up at me, making me to look at her beautiful young face “It has to” she whispered as if it was what she truly believed in.

For a moment our eyes meet and I realize pure trust in her eyes. The very trust I didn’t have on myself that I will make it big in life.

“Fine. Move on and tell about Love life” Sahil said with a wave of his hand.

The moment passed away and she removed her hands from mine almost instinctively.

“I don’t need to know” I say even as I get up, while Sahil follows with a grumpy face as we both I exited for the match. 

I, however couldn’t erase the firm belief in her eyes. What was more disconcerting was that it wasn’t a belief that stemmed out of her knowledge in palmistry. It seemed to have been there for me. Truly.

That belief kept me going in desperate situations.

In the night I had left, if I had doubted myself for a moment, I remembered those eyes which looked at me with trust. When you do not trust yourself, and if somebody else does it, for a fleeting moment, you feel like believing it to be true yourself.  

That is how I had pursued my idea of staying alone and learning it the tough way.

There were hard days surely, but that sweet little face of the girl I had left behind had always been in the back of my mind that pushed me to give my best in any situation.

She was in my mind for the past five years and every time I talked to Sahil over phone or in letters, there was one weak moment when I feel like asking her whereabouts, but then I stop myself, not wanting to cross a line.

She had been there as a fond memory for years, until one day I came across her laughing form, her palm extended to touch the rain that was falling, her smile that warmed up her face, and the countenance that froze the moment she saw me.

                                                                                   –

He doesn’t reply for a long time, but then he walks towards me, and in a move that startles me, he sits on the floor, his back to the cot I was sitting on, his shoulder almost touching my knee.

“Go after having this” he says pushing the soup back into my hand. “Otherwise, be warned I know the way to your room”

Invariably a small smile cracks on my lips, as how he gently switches the mood and takes me back to those late night dinners we have had in Nagpur.

How I wish it was as easy to go back to that time and place.

This time however, when he places the warm soup in my hand, I do not resist. As the warm ceramic touch my hand and before I thought his hand would retreat after securely placing the soup in my hand, it captures mine instead, catching me off guard.

I feel a loud thud somewhere deep inside and realize it’s my erratic heartbeat. His gaze stops at the little contact in interest as his hand extract mine totally from the soup I was holding and entwines his fingers with mine.

As I sit there rooted to the spot, his shoulder still apart from my knee, the only contact between us is the joined hands that seemed too unreal for me to believe… he opens my palm and seem to be engrossed in it.

It was only after a while, I realize he is engrossed in something…in reading my palm.

His finger traces the lines in almost a caress as I stop breathing. It stops at my thumb and gently tries to bend it backwards.

It was at this point, he looks up to meet my eyes and that’s when something flash before my eyes. Something long forgotten.

Something hazy, which slowly cleared up as I suddenly remembered with a deafening clarity.

The afternoon I did the same, read his hand.

That was the last I saw him, before I went to Pune, and eventually became the last time I saw him before he left.

I feel the erratic heart beats never subside as I ask him with a voice that sounded alien even to me, all deep and throaty “You remember?”

“I never forgot” he says and this time, he leans in closer, his shoulder bumping into my knee and relaxes.

Disbelief colour my countenance as I repeat myself in astonishment.

“You actually remembered?” I say more to myself.

He turns his head to look at me, his head leaned against the cot, his eyes dark and beautiful like always “What do you think had given me enough courage to work upon what I have planned for years?”

“My prediction made you leave?”

“I like the sound of it” he grinned at me. “But actually it was the trigger. The Idea was there from before”

As we stay there disposed in a hazy state, for a long moment, the dimensions of our equation rapidly changing, I hear him speak, his finger passing over my fate line in a tantalizing manner.

“Do you know what this line here says about?” he asks.

I am too surprised to react.

“It says that you are to be treated with more chicken noodle soup this evening” he pauses, as if something surprised him in the course of reading my palm “Oh… look what we have here, it also says you have some great recipes to be tasted, some weight to be put on because of all these dishes, and some debates you might have with someone about…” he frowns at it “Superhero costumes”

“Rudr…”

He turns towards me, raising up on his knees as he stares at me, our entwined hand securely in my lap. His eyes held such tenderness that I forgot what I wanted to say. Instead I speak something exposing a fear so deep, a pain so raw to him.

“I…” I say as an inconspicuous tear slip from my eye. “I saw Gangadhar uncle talking to you the other day”

Except for his eyes, that seemed to finally clear at this, nothing else in his countenance changed.

“He asked you to marry Anusha” I say as stupid tears fill my eyes.

“He did” he says casually.

“What…” I say as I take a gulp “…did you say”

“The truth.” Rudr said shrugging “That I like Anusha like my own sister, and can’t marry her”

“What?”

Rudr shrugs. “Besides, there was also this little detail.”

“What detail?” I was asking questions, but they were being shot naturally, without I registering any of it.

“That I am in love with somebody else”

A hush falls down as I stare at him in the silence of the night.

“Who” my voice sounds like a whisper.

“You”

Something about how casually he said it, as if it was something very natural, or maybe it were the words itself, I do not know what, but I respond to it in a very unladylike manner and burst out into tears, even as I feel myself hiccuping.

He sits beside me and pulls me into his arms and I stay there for a longer time as I let his hands curl around me, reminding me that this is truth, this is real, while the niggling doubts, those voices that haunted me fade down slowly.

After a long beat of silence, he says very gently “You should really eat that soup you know, and pretend it tastes okay even though it sucks because this is sort of…” I look up to him, still in his arms but place my hand on his lips silencing him.

“I need not pretend. This is the best soup I ever had”

A small smile crept on his lips “Why should I believe that it isn’t just you saying it to have me cook on a regular basis?”

A faint bubble of laughter escape my lips as I feel something warm inside my heart “That too” I say, as he pulls me even closer, and kisses my brow.

It was then I ask something that had been troubling me for so long.

“Rudr…”

“Hmm?”

“Can you cook butter chicken?”

His rich laughter echoes in the room but he didn’t answer. However, I would like to believe that is an affirmative.

 

  The End.

 

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