When I stepped outside Rahul was pacing in the empty break-out area, probably waiting for me to step out of the wash room. He must be here to make sure that I was fine. He must have noticed my pale face and watery gaze by the end of the meeting and knew I might be crying. He turned to me when he felt my presence. One look at me and he knew I had cried. What else did he expect!
I looked at Rahul and tried to put on a mask of smiling face but in vain. "I am fine” I whispered.
Rahul didn't speak anything for a moment and the next moment, his arms were around me holding me close to him. I tried to resist what he was offering but knew that I was in desperate need of someone to comfort me. I obliged, hiding my face in his chest, trying to control the sobs that were about to break loose. But everything became too much for me and I broke down in his arms. The feeling of home sickness, missing my parents and the lack of good friends in the university to share my turmoil for the last five year combined with my broken heart lead to heaps of misery accumulated in my heart. And with Rahul, I didn't feel the necessity to put up with the fake smile I had mastered till now.
"Ssh Riddhima. He is just disturbed with the fact that you left him and all of us without informing us in advance" He said, patting my back. "Just give him some time to come to terms with it."
"I-I didn't m-mean to h-hurt him or an-anyone of you. I c-couldn't muster up the c-courage to tell anyone b-before leaving." She uttered in her broken voice.
"Shh we shall talk about this later. We all are angry with you but he has taken it to his heart. Don’t worry things will get back to normal soon" He consoled me.
I drew back and wiped my tears. "Can you help me in switching the assistant? I don't think he wants to see my face" I said.
"That will only infuriate him more, Riddhima" he said while giving me a glass of water to drink.
After few seconds he said “let’s go back otherwise your boss Abhimanyu will start getting suspicious because sudden change of behaviour”.
It took few seconds for me to realise what Rahul meant and he did have a point. When it registered in my mind that for Abhimanyu, armaan and Rahul are strangers for me then changing the assistant would definitely create some suspicion which I clearly don’t want at this moment.
I looked at Rahul and nodded my head in agreement, I told him to go ahead and that I will join them in a minute. He smiled and walked away. I just looked at his retreating figure the warmth that I was missing from so many years, the bubble that I had created finally busted today. Indeed it’s going to be a long day today.
I went back to washroom and stood infront of the mirror. I just looked at my pale face once again. If anyone would look into my eyes deeply, only one thing would be visible and that is tiredness. Yes tiredness, tired of fighting everyday with my inner fear, fear of meeting armaan again. Tired of pretending to be happy, tired of believing things would be fine one day, tired of suppressing the emotion of love that I still have for armaan within me. All in all I am really tired and that can be visible in my eyes.
“Armaan acha hua tum aa gaye paanch saal se jis haqeekat se mien bhag rahi thi aaj uska samna karna padega mujhe. Paanch saal pehle miene jo galti ki uska nateeja mujhe bhugatna hi padega. I am ready to face your rude/harsh behaviour because I know you are hurt by my decision taken 5 years ago. You have all the right to show your anger. Now, I will only bridge the gap between us. I can’t take your indifferent behaviour its killing me armaan. It pains to see a sweet and caring friend turning into a stranger. I want us to be friends like before and that will happen no matter what I have to do. I will do everything to reinstate our friendship. I have lost my love but I am not ready to lose my friendship” I said with determination in my eyes.
I washed my face and then applied some makeup on my face before leaving to join others. This would be tough but I have to trust myself if I want my friendship to remain intact. With determination in me I walked back to the hall where lunch was supposed to be served.
As I was walking towards the lunch hall I saw Abhimanyu, he was walking towards my direction and as soon as he saw me he sighed.
“Riddhima I was searching for you, where were you lost?” he asked me. Before I could say anything he interrupted me and said “Never mind, just go to the lunch hall and see if all the arrangements are perfect because now guest will soon be escorted for lunch. I’ll join you in few minutes”. I nodded my head in agreement and walked towards the lunch hall.
As soon as I entered the hall I sighed as it was empty and quickly started checking the preparation. After few minutes guests started entering the hall. Armaan and Rahul were the last ones to enter. My heart was beating faster than usual but I had to do my job. I was standing near the table where food was served for the guests. One by one, everyone were taking their plates and filling their plates with food. Armaan and Rahul were the last one to take their plates. Ignoring everything I smiled like I did for others. Rahul returned it with a smile whereas armaan just gave me an intense look. I tried understanding that look but was highly confused. It was hard to say whether it depicted anger, betrayal, hurt, pain or anything else.
I was waiting for everyone to eat and leave the hall so that I could also eat food my food. As a part of the hosting team I felt that I should eat after everyone is done. Also I felt it would be best if arman left the hall that would reduce the tension in the air and I would be able to eat my food in peace. Before I try to mend our friendship, I need to refill my energy. I saw Abhimanyu entering the hall and he walked straight towards me. “Hi riddhima is everything fine?” he asked me. I smiled and nodded my head in agreement.
“Good the delegates have given a positive feedback as of now so boss is hopeful we might crack this deal” he said in an enthusiastic voice. I smiled listening to him, considering the last couple of hours it felt like after ages I heard something good. “Did you had your lunch?” Abhimanyu asked me. I nodded my head in no and made a face. He chuckled and said “go have food I’ll take care here”. I was really thankful to him for this gesture.
I was about to pick the plate when I heard armaan’s voice “there is some problem with the food, it doesn’t taste like proper Indian Food”. I immediately walked towards armaan because I knew if he made any complains then Abhimanyu and I will be scrutinised by our bosses. Somewhere down the line I knew armaan was doing this deliberately, if yes then the question arises why? What will he gain by doing this? Even Abhimanyu reached at armaan’s table.
“What happened armaan” Abhimanyu asked him. I looked around and saw everyone had almost stopped eating. They were looking towards our direction. I just silently prayed that armaan doesn’t stretch this matter much otherwise it won’t take long for our bosses to know about this incident and both Abhimanyu and I would land in trouble.
“Ar uum I mean Mr. Mallik we can surely sort the problem if there is any” I tried to politely calm him down but I guess I shouldn’t have because his next set of words really shattered me.
“The problem is you Ms. Gupta, wasn’t it your duty to check the food, correct me if I am wrong” armaan said harshly.
I looked towards Abhimanyu for brief seconds and then back at armaan. I bowed my head down to convey he was right it was indeed my duty. All this while I was just trying to figure it out what wrong have I done?
“Armaan please tell us what is wrong” Abhimanyu asked once again. Just like me even he was totally clueless about why all of a sudden armaan is behaving like this. Before armaan could reply Rahul came to my rescue and said “there is no problem I just love the food, I am sure armaan is just pulling a prank on all of you”. I wish what he said was true but looking at armaan’s face I knew this was certainly not possible. I know armaan’s style of prank, they were purely for fun not to create a scene.
“This is not a prank” came armaan’s reply instantly.
“Gentlemen I request you all to continue having your lunch in the next room while we sort this out. Abhimanyu could you please escort them and then come back” Rahul said immediately.
Slowly everyone started leaving the hall but not before whispering amongst themselves. I just hope this matter isn’t stretched further armaan has no idea how strict authorities over here are. They would suspend Abhimanyu and me. If he goes ahead and complain we could be fired as well. I just wonder what’s making armaan do all this? What would he achieve by doing this?
“Armaan what’s the matter” Rahul asked as soon as everyone else left the hall.
“I didn’t like the taste of the food it isn’t Indian at all” came armaan’s reply.
“Definitely taste is not an issue because even I had the same food and its fine” Rahul said.
“Exactly it’s just fine not best” armaan said.
Before Rahul could say something I mustered up the courage to speak “Armaan you don’t realise your behaviour can land both Abhimanyu and me in trouble”.
“Firstly its Mr. Mallik for you and secondly why are you worrying for him, worry for yourself unless he means something to you” said armaan in a sharp tone. Both Rahul and I looked at armaan with a shock expression. Did he really said that or was I dreaming. I looked at Rahul to confirm whether what I heard was true and not my imagination. His expressions confirmed that this was true.
“After you left from the meeting he was trying to explain me that you were good and I shouldn’t be harsh to you” armaan continued when he received no reply from me. When I heard that I smiled as it was very grateful of him to say something like this. I was blessed to have him as my mentor cum boss. But my smile was wrongly taken by armaan it seemed like because his next set of words broke my heart into various pieces.
“You seem to be happy with this piece of information isn’t it? So what’s going on between you two” he asked in a harsh tone.
“Armaan” both Rahul and I said in union. I couldn’t believe my ears. Tears started forming in my eyes. I was badly trying to control them.
“For the last time it’s Mr. Mallik for you and Rahul you stay out of it” armaan said. Before Rahul could say anything Abhimanyu returned. I just hoped against the hope that armaan stayed mum in front of him otherwise he would spoil everything for me.
“Armaan I was wondering if you have no problem in waiting I will request the cooks to cook something Indian for you as soon as possible?”
“Why request the cook to do efforts again, the one who was irresponsible should be the one to correct their irresponsible behaviour” armaan stated as a matter of fact.
“You want riddhima to cook for you is that what you are trying to say” this time Rahul asked in disbelief. Armaan gave no reply which clearly meant that’s what he wants. He knows I am not a great cook in fact I cook only that much where I can survive why does he wants me to cook. Is this some sort of punishment for me?
“Armaan riddhima hasn’t eaten since morning and if now she goes and cooks the food she will miss her lunch. You are the client you can have your food anytime no one will question you but riddhima won’t be able to eat it later on. The rules of the office suggest that have food only during the assigned break. Also, It’s a request please don’t stretch this matter it will create a problem for riddhima” Abhimanyu said.
All this while I was just starring at armaan and I know this friendly concern wasn’t taken well by him. His expressions clearly expressed he was uninterested in what Abhimanyu just said. His earlier accusation of something going on between Abhimanyu and me was ringing in my ears now. Doesn’t he know me well enough to know that if I would have been in love with Abhimanyu I would have behaved differently around him?
Five years of gap had really brought a gap in our friendship, I was wrong in thinking that everything would be fine. If armaan wants to hurt me or punish me then so be it. “Abhimanyu it’s ok if Mr. Mallik wants me to cook the food I will certainly do that. Like Mr. Mallik said, it was my irresponsible behaviour that led to this situation and I should only correct it. So, I will correct it. Excuse me Gentlemen” riddhima said and started walking towards the door.
“Riddhima stop armaan is mad don’t take him seriously. You and I both know you aren’t that good a cook, you might end up either hurting yourself or the food will be burnt” Rahul shouted.
“No Rahul its fine if Mr. Mallik wants me to cook then surely that will happen come what may” I said in a stubborn voice. At present the person who was standing in front of me wasn’t my best friend armaan he was someone else.
Abhimanyu who was a silent spectator of this conversation was just staring at me with confusion written all over his face. By the look on his face I was sure I had loads to explain but right now I needed to get done with this mess which armaan was deliberately creating, just wonder why?
I walked towards the kitchen with determination that I would make his favourite dish so that he doesn’t repeat the whole drama. Over the years, while remembering him I kept making this dish quite often, this kind of gave me some relief, it felt like he was near me.
The kitchen staff was astounded seeing me in kitchen and soon it was turned to a petrified look, I guess it happened after they saw the anger on my face. My anger must have really scared them but I don’t have time to explain anything. I quickly asked them the things that I needed for cooking the dish, at first they were reluctant that why was I cooking and not ordering them but then I explained them that it was on clients request. Hearing this they all calmed down and I started cooking.
While I was preparing the dish I accidently cut my finger. I immediately shouted in pain and then quickly kept my finger under the running water by opening the tap attached to a sink. After keeping my finger like that for two minutes I asked one of the staff member for a band aid. After applying the band aid I resumed my work of cooking, but this time with full focus. Earlier I was lost in the happenings of the day due to which my attention got diverted and that resulted in me getting hurt. I can’t lose my focus at all otherwise I would only get hurt by the end of it. Finally, the dish was ready and I sighed in relief.
I entered the lunch hall with the tray that had food in it. I quietly served the food to armaan hoping that this would calm his anger, back in those days it used to so, I hope atleast this habit of his hasn’t changed. I looked towards Rahul who smiled seeing me, kind of gave me an assurance that I had done the right thing. I was patiently waiting for armaan to take his first bite and when he was about to I heard abhimanyu’s voice.
“Riddhima show me your hand, you have hurt yourself” Abhimanyu said while holding my hand.
I just looked at armaan, his words that what was going on between us, started ringing in my ears. He was blankly starring at us and to be honest this blank look was scarier than those words. At least words could be interrupted here, I fail to understand what’s going on his mind. I looked at Abhimanyu and said “nothing serious while cooking, I accidentally cut my finger”.
Hearing this Rahul also showed his worries but I assured him that I am absolutely fine. I looked at armaan, his eyes were constantly on abhimanyu’s hand which held mine. “You should have been careful” Abhimanyu said. “Sorry I was totally zoned out due to some personal reasons, won’t happen again” I said, my reply wasn’t to abhimanyu but to armaan’s unasked question. I knew he was equally worried but was not voicing it instead was hiding his caring nature.
After few seconds, armaan said “someone seems to love seeking attention”. I don’t know why but this pricked me, does he really think of me like this? “Armaan is everything ok?” Abhimanyu asked, little dazed by his absurd behaviour. I looked at Rahul with hurt written on my eyes for brief seconds before shifting my eyes to armaan. Our eyes met and I felt he went stiff for few seconds before going back to his cold look. He must have seen the hurt in my eyes but recovered from it as quickly as possible.
“Armaan if you don’t mind me asking I would like to know if riddhima has done something wrong? We can sort it out, It’s a request please don’t complain against riddhima she is a hardworking employee and also very good at her work” Abhimanyu said. Armaan seemed to look more pissed off after this. “No, I will not mind it only if you tell me why are you taking her sides?” armaan asked in an arrogant tone. I almost fainted hearing this, did armaan really said this? Did I heard him right?
I snapped as soon as I gained back my confidence “Mr. Malik learn to keep the personal and professional life different. Just because I am not saying anything to you, you don’t have a right to continue speaking rubbish”. Both Abhimanyu and Rahul were shocked hearing this and before anyone could come out of it I walked outside the hall.
All of us were gathered for the meeting once again. Post lunch thankfully it was a combined meeting not like pre-lunch with small groups. I would have not been able to work had it been like that. I was not even looking at the presentation nor was I hearing what the speaker was speaking. I was just trying to calm myself. I didn’t even bothered whether Armaan, Rahul and Abhimanyu came or not, I just wanted to be alone for sometime. Armaan’s accusation was piercing my heart, how can he think so low off me? I understand I left everyone without informing and they are angry with me, but this was not the way to take out the anger, he went too far with it. I wish he had given me one chance to explain myself, but yes truth is I also didn’t gave them a chance to stop me back then so I also don’t deserve a chance to explain myself. Right now all I want, the day should end. I am more than physically, emotionally tired.
Finally the presentation ended and it was time for the evening tea before we all leave for the day. I am just counting minutes now. "Hi Riddhima, any plans to go on a holiday to India?" one of the Indian lady who came along with armaan and Rahul asked me this.
"As of now no there is so much work here that I hardly get time to go on a vacation nearby forget India." I replied with a smile.
"Oh I see, so are you single or engaged?" she asked to continue the conversation. "I mean if you don't mind me asking” she said and I badly wanted to say yes I do mind it, armaan was standing right here the person whom I love but sadly we can’t be together. Also I wanted him to know his accusation was nothing but a false assumption.
"uuumm well” I said in a hesitant voice because the scrutinizing gaze of Armaan was too much to behave normal. "I am single” I said it after controlling myself, from the corner of my eyes I saw armaan sighing in relief. This can’t be my figment of imagination I mean why would he sigh knowing I am single?
"So what do you do love doing I mean your hobbies?" Another Indian colleague asked her after joining our conversation.
"Leaving people!" Armaan snapped and I looked at him with shocked look. Did he actually said this or my ears were listening more than required?
A stunned silence followed after his absurd remark. He could have confronted me, I thought turning pale as if I had seen a ghost.
"With a smile!" Rahul shouted, coming to my immediate rescue.
"She has a charisma that everyone who meets her adores her, even when she leaves I mean when she is no more around them" He said glaring at Armaan.
"Excuse me" armaan said and left the room.
I just exchanged glances with people and next I knew Rahul started some random conversation to divert people around. After few minutes, I left from there saying bye to everyone. I needed to go home and just sleep, I wanted to erase today’s day completely.
When I reached home I quickly changed into my night suit and went straight towards the bed. I must have dozed off immediately I believe. I vaguely heard door bell, irritated I just woke up and went towards the door. I opened the door without seeing from the peephole and if I said I was shocked it would have been an understatement. Armaan was standing right infront of me with anger on his face. How did he get my address?
“Do you mind stepping aside, you see I can’t stand here and talk” armaan said and in my dazed state I moved aside, letting him inside the house.
As soon as he entered the house he started looking around and this action of him was very confusing. Several questions were coming in my mind but amongst them the most important question was why has he come to my house?
“Nice cozy house you have” he said it and all I did was stare at him with shocked expressions. Look at him can anyone say he was the same person who in morning was behaving like a jerk? What made him change his behaviour so quick? When he didn’t get a reply from me he turned and faced me. I am sure I still had those shocked look but like before he again chose to ignore it. “Won’t you show me your house?” he said it in a cool tone.
This time I recovered from my shock and snapped at him “why have you come here?” I remember clearly I did not invited you”. I crossed my hand in front of my chest and waited for his reply.
He casually said “I know” and then shrugged his shoulder. This cool behaviour of his was doing nothing but making me feel confused, rather I should be angry with him, I should be shouting at him that after what he did in office today he doesn’t have a right to be here and talk to me.
“You still didn’t answer me” I tried sounding irritated but I knew I was failing miserably when I saw him smirking. “Stop it before I wipe it off” this time I said in angry tone because I was really angry now. He is testing my patience. “How” he asked by raising his eyebrows. Ok this was too much he can’t act all cool now when he acted like a jerk sometime back.
“Enough is enough just be serious or else you know the way out” I shouted, gave a clear indication that I wasn’t ready to tolerate more of his nonsense. “Ok Ok let’s be serious so tell me how you are? What all you did in last five years?” he asked.
I just stared at him with mouth open, I just blasted at him to be serious and he is still not being serious? “Why are you behaving like this?” I finally managed to ask him. “Why I can’t behave like this?” he asked. “After what you did back in office I don’t think you have the right to ask such question” I finally said what I wanted to and it feels good.
“Ok fine, I wanted to talk to you" He said in a calm tone. This time I raised my eyebrows at him and gave him a look ‘it better be serious’.
"Riddhima, I am sorry. I didn't mean to say or do things that I did back in office today" He said slowly, this was enough to bring tears in my eyes. He wiped the tears away with his thumb but I stepped back immediately. I can’t let emotions win not when I fought with them for five continuous years.
"That's fine" I said in a serious tone. He couldn't hold his smile back when I said this. "You should leave now you wanted to apologise you did and I forgave you so, you should leave" I mumbled.
"Not until I am done with you." He said.
For the first time I lifted my eyes and looked into his eyes directly. "What is it?" I asked, my voice was weak.
"I have one role for you" He said and I looked at him with confused face, also raised my eyebrows. Is he offering me some other job? Or is he planning to open some production house and wants to cast me? He grinned.
"The role of Mrs. Armaan Mallik" He announced. I went numb, did I hear it right or not? Did he really propose me? But then suddenly I realised something.
"You are not married?" I asked him with a shocked tone.
And now it was his turn to be stunned. "What? No." He said, rubbing his palms.
"Priya your fiancé?" I asked, still confused.
"Long story short we fought and broke up after our engagement." He said, while looking in my eyes.
"Why?" I asked, involuntarily taking a step towards him.
"Because someone one who always used to handle our fights, used to help us patching up was missing." He said, as a matter of fact, shoving his hands into his trousers pockets.
“But you loved each other? Why you want to marry me?" I choked and my eyes turned misty too. They used to have fights and I always used to help armaan in patching up, was their love not strong to survive without someone’s help?
"Until you left I never realised that our relationship survived because you always helped in patching us up. Once you left there was no one to help us and I realised this can’t continue forever so we broke mutually" He said simply. "While realising this I also realised, that one person who understands me completely I am so dependent on her that when she is not around everything goes for a toss. My life turns a mess, without her I feel as if life has no meaning. I missed your child like behaviour, your chirpy nature. It didn’t take me long to realise my feelings for you".
I didn’t let him continue because I threw herself against him and hugged him tight enough to break his neck. Five years, I was struggling to forget him but I always knew it was not possible but today it feels like I got my life back.
“You still didn’t answer me why were you behaving the way you were behaving at office today?” I asked him while I was still hugging him. I need to believe that this is happening for real and is no way a dream.
"Oh Riddhima! I am so sorry." He whispered, holding me close to his body. "I was just mad at you for leaving without informing me during the engagement night. You know when I got to know that you left the country I felt cheated, I felt as if my life will stop. I had become angry young man, our friends had to tolerate my tantrum. I couldn’t digest the fact that none of our friends knew about your contact details, you deactivated all your social media accounts. I was getting restless day by day and when I saw you all those pent up emotions went in vain and anger took over. Also your closeness to Abhimanyu, I was jealous that you love me but giving him all your attention. You were smiling around him, he was defending you something which I used to do back in time. I knew you loved me but I wasn’t sure if you still loved me because even after you saw me you didn’t come running to me to say that you missed me or anything which could give a hint that you still loved me. Instead, youu were busy defending abhimnayu and he was doing same for you" he admitted being jealous, I just smiled.
"I know you were jealous" I mumbled, burying my face in his neck. "Rahul told me that you were angry with me as I had left without informing but later I realised you were jealous too” I added.
He smiled at my words. "So I take it as a yes" He whispered into my ear. I drew back and looked up at him. “But first tell me how did you know that I love you?” the curiosity was too high.
"Someone forgot to hide few loose letters where true heart feelings were written" He uttered before bending his face down and brushing his lips against mine. When he raised his head, probably to see my reaction, I am sure my face must have turned red. I kept my eyes closed because I don’t know what to do in such situation.
"Riddhima, I love you!" He whispered, before claiming my lips in a proper kiss to seal the moment.
With our lips locked and my hands raised into his nape, I couldn’t help but feel like I am on the moon. He tilted my face and raised me up against him before deepening the kiss. A moment into the kiss and I am sure he must have realized that when it comes to kissing I am totally naïve/innocent. He took advantage of that fact and I followed him when he took the lead. He slowly ended the kiss. When we opened our eyes and looked each other, we were panting.
I hid my face in his neck yet again and mumbled, "I don't leave people it was just a decision taken without thinking properly".
"I know," He grinned and pecked my earlobe while I sighed contently.
We heard a whistle, we looked around and was stunned to find Rahul standing at the entrance. He was looking at us in awe, with his hands in his pocket. He was grinning from ear to ear. I drew back and I am sure my face must have turned a darker shade of red. Now I get it Rahul must have asked for my address from Abhimanyu, may be after telling our equation.
I gathered myself and said "I decided I want that role that you offered me and"
"And?" He probed me to continue, waiting for me to say those three magical words, holding his breath. "And I love you too" I said with a smile.
He pulled me to himself and grinned. "Promise you will never ever hide anything from me after our marriage? He whispered in my ear.
“I promise, Dill Main Dabi Baat hamesha zubaan pe ayegi” with that I hugged him tight.
Finally after so long this short story ends today... i was not happy with what i had written earlier it was getting boring so i re- wrote it and hence it took time.....
Happy Valentines Day to all.....
Eagerly waiting for your review on the story...