He had never expected that she would say ‘this’. Not even in his dreams. Neither did she ever imagine that she would speak like this with anyone. With him! But such words are not planned and articulated. They just spill out. Like emotions. Like tears. Like an overwhelming surge of a deeply felt pain. The way she didn’t think even for a moment before she ran towards him to ensure that he w...
Anshuman had been looking away from the camp, towards the dry terrains, focused far away on the infinity, on the darkening sky welcoming the knock of the dusk, and the setting sun leaving subtle hues of several layers of grey and black merging with the blue, almost overshadowing it.
Struggling with the gush of emotions rustling inside his chest, he folded his hands across his chest to calm them. But the deluge, the chaos refused to settle down. His emotions webbed around his chest and grew stronger. The kind which can neither be shed nor shared. They can only be endured. With all the might a person has inside him.
‘Damnnn!!!’ He sighed as if releasing the frustrations in that one word. To say that he was worried about Manasvi was an understatement. His throat hurt for he had let a scream buried in it for long. He wished, he could release it at the top of his voice and rattle a storm in the dusty dunes of this country to ask where the girl was.
The landscapes won’t answer. He knew that. They never did. He knew this country well. It wasn’t his first visit to Afghanistan.
The rustling of the sand and gravel below someone’s running feet diverted his attention. He turned around.
And the world almost stopped. Right there!!
She was there.
Manasvi was right before his eyes. His breath was caught in his chest and he blinked once to confirm her presence there. For a moment, he couldn’t believe it. He had been searching for her like crazy, since last night, and for the entire day today. He had hoped to meet her the next day when the officials would call him to the office of the registrar. The wait seemed unending and the night, unusually long.
But defying all hopes, she was here. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Right there, before him. Safe and sound.
Anshuman heaved a huge sigh of relief, so evident that his lips parted and he released a gust of air. For a moment, he felt like stepping ahead to hold her shoulders strongly and draw her close to him, crushing her within his arms. But he didn’t.
He pressed his lips and shrugged slightly, deeply moved and relieved to see her safe. She was on the verge of getting emotional.
Locating her, being with her in case she was in danger, supporting her if she needed him and, helping her was his mission. To raise her expectations from him and their relationship was not in the plans.
The warm and endearing look in her eyes, as if she had seen someone close in distant space, made him uneasy. He couldn’t gather the courage to tear his eyes away. Nor could he return the look of belongingness. He smiled slightly, but in an indifferent manner. To let her know that he was happy to see her there. And surprised too.
She composed herself and though profoundly pleased to see him before her, she couldn’t tell him how madly she had been trying to find him. One vague thought about him being at PBB turned into a major turn of events and here they were. Before each other. She had finally located him like a diamond lost in the sand and she was feeling so overwhelmed right now that she couldn’t hold the storm over her otherwise settled ocean of emotions. She had almost lost hopes of seeing him before leaving this country.
But she couldn’t speak any of it. Rushing towards him and hugging him was totally out of question. It didn’t even cross her mind. Their relationship was not even close to one like that.
She simply smiled and shook her head softly but couldn’t hide the bliss on her face. Something that he read so clearly. She couldn’t hide how grateful she was.
He smiled. “Hi!”
He shrugged again, trying his best to look surprised and unbothered. In a careless, routine manner, as if meeting someone randomly known in a market place – ‘oh-so-casually’ – but still happy to see them there, he simply asked in a comforting voice, “You? Here? I mean…”
She was always nervous around him. In fact, he was the only person before whom she would become nervous. He could do that to her. And he was not even staring.
‘God!! Why does he want to prove that he didn’t know that I am in Afghanistan? He did know about me. Didn’t he?? Or is he on a PBB posting and Madhu aunty casually told me that he was on his way to Kabul? He was not here for me…’
Apprehensive, now that he was looking at her for an answer, she started explaining in quick, broken words, half-sentences, and a stammer, “Actually, I was in Kabul… for some documents… But they asked me to go to Jalalabad… as I was born here… and then… you know, there was a blast… err… in the market… so… umm… my friend got hurt… so we… I mean… the cab driver was on his way back home… and he dropped us here… at PBB camp…and… I simply assumed… that you…”
“Blast??” He immediately responded to that one word. He spread his hands sideways in a question and she knew that he didn’t even listen to the rest of the blabber that went on after that part. He looked vexed for that moment. Why she was pleased that this small detail caught his attention, she didn’t know.
“Yup! Some suicide attack happened at the police station in the central market.” She informed.
Quickly, he took two steps towards her and stopped. The concern in his eyes was not to be mistaken. For years, Manasvi had lived by reading people, their eyes, and unspoken gestures. That is how she decided she was wanted or unwanted at a place. That is how she avoided dirty stares. That is how she was taught to stay safe and survive alone in the world that pretended to be equal to both men and women but was clearly not.
She was confident that she could read eyes. And Anshuman’s eyes couldn’t hide the care he held in them. For her.
She had seen that care in his eyes even for the first time they looked at each other at the time of their marriage. That look remained unfazed every time they met after that. At Preksha’s engagement when he arranged for her to be dropped back home. At the airport when he had dropped her. His caring attitude and the concerned look for her had never changed.
His voice was unusually soft this time, “Are you fine?”
She couldn’t answer him. So engrossed she was in observing him and his response to her. Was she reading him right??
He appeared worried. He seemed restless. He looked devastated. Something more than tiredness was gnawing on him, eating him up.
Speechless, she simply nodded to confirm, “Hmm!”
Finally relieved, he sighed and was able to stay composed after that. To look unaffected, he thrust his hands in the pockets of his trousers and that simple act made her eyes travel from his face to his hands and then his pockets, back to him.
Her heart was still beating hard. Anshuman was standing hardly a few steps away from her and she didn’t know how to turn away from him. She wished she could do that but she couldn’t.
“What about you? Here?” She couldn’t stop from asking him. Her saviour, her angel for all times was here and she was craving to hear how he was there for her and will always be there for her. Always!
He managed a small, dry laughter and sighed, “Umm… just regular… PBB posting!!!”
Her heart broke. Every hope built up in the last 24 hours was smashed to pieces. She had been searching for him to get a glimpse of him and he was not even looking for her.
She cleared her throat and this time she turned away. The breaking castle of her expectations and hopes needed to be guarded. He eased it for both of them, when he said, “Please don’t tell mom that I work for PBB. She doesn’t know about it.”
It was definitely weird. He didn’t request this when they had come face to face at the terrace of his house and she had overheard the casual conversation about his job. He didn’t need to request anything like that. He just knew that she won’t tell anyone. And she didn’t. Then, why was he saying this now?
She nodded, as a matter-of-fact, and replied in a voice so low that he wouldn’t have heard it if it wasn’t pin-drop silence around them. “You know that I won’t.”
Rolling his eyes, feeling awkward, he nodded too, “Yeah… thanks!”
He tapped his foot impatiently and pressed his lips, but couldn’t remove his eyes from her. So relieved he was on having her there. With him.Around him. But he didn’t know what else to say to continue the conversation. She was clueless too. She was so sure that he was here for her. His mother had sounded like that. But PBB camp at Jalalabad was a reality too.
There was some kind of a gross misunderstanding and Manasvi’s heart was aching to know more. To hear that Anshuman had come all the way for her. Her hopeful, positive heart refused to accept that he didn’t even think about her when he was here. That, he was not looking for her. That, he was here on a posting and wasn’t aware that she was here.
She fiddled with the ring in her finger, rotating it around the skin and asked, in a low, unsure tone, “It’s a coincidence, right? They posted you at Afghanistan at the same time?”
He turned towards the camp and completely ignoring her statement, he asked, “You said your friend is hurt? Where is he?”
She slightly turned half-way towards the base, “They took him inside the minor OT!”
“We should go and see him!” He moved his hand to show her the way before she started walking ahead and he followed, and said, “It’s such a surprise to see you here!”
She didn’t reply to this. She frowned slightly and simply observed him as he continued to walk next to her, leaving her confused and clouded. The fog over her brain stayed when Dr. Anshuman walked inside the minor OT and was informed that Krish had been shifted to the makeshift ward. He signaled Manasvi to follow him and Manasvi followed like a robotic device, programmed and conditioned to follow his unspoken instructions.
Anshuman entered the ward, asked about Krish and went to bed no. 3 to examine his arm and leg, both of which were bandaged right now. He studied the notes kept on the table beside his bed and expressed relief that it wasn’t a fracture. Krish thanked him too. Anshuman talked to him for a few minutes, basically to ask how he was feeling and made him feel comfortable. Each and every word, each and every gesture made with the doctors’ precision and a rehearsed protocol. He even smiled as he shook hands with Krish and patted on his back.
“You will be fine in 2-3 days, I suppose. Nothing serious. Nothing to worry about.”
Krish smiled and replied, “Thank you so much, doctor.” Then he turned to talk to Manasvi who was standing on the other side of the bed, exactly opposite to Anshuman. She was facing him and even now, she was observing his detached commitment to the patient.
Krish said, “Did you just hear what the doctor said? I told you na, that I was fine?? But you didn’t want to listen to me. You insisted on taking me to the doctor and get me admitted to the hospital. See now!! It’s nothing to worry!”
Anshuman’s eyes shifted to Manasvi while Krish spoke to her. Manasvi’s eyes were reading Anshuman even now. His posture. His mannerisms. His working pattern. His concern for the patient. This concern was so different from what he held for her. She observed each and every detail of his actions, expressions, and features. Above all, his eyes.
His eyes spoke to her. At all times when they met hers. And she couldn’t be misguided. They spoke even when they were turned to her now after Krish started speaking. Eyes, which held some detachment but not the same that he meant for his patients. This appeared to be a forced detachment. Eyes, which didn’t have even a trace of jealousy or discomfort while Krish was talking to her.
Manasvi didn’t like this cold gaze making her feel the discomfort of detachment. However, fake it was!!
Was she even sure that it was fake? What if this was true?
Had she been living with a theory of an ideal man who had been a saviour at multiple times and so she respected and revered an image?! Maybe what she had always treasured in her mind and heart, was the fake Anshuman. Was it merely a portrait of a perfect man created by her mind?! A dream?! Hope?!
Was this was the true Anshuman?! Unbothered. Unaffected. Detached.
No, one can’t be so unaffected when a man was talking to his wife in such a friendly manner. She was still his wife. What did he know about Krish to let him be around her?
No, he can’t pretend that he didn’t know that she was in Afghanistan and he wasn’t searching for her. His mother had clearly told her that he was on his way to Afghanistan and he would be around and she could call him if she needed him.
She knew that he knew that she was there. He knew that she was in Jalalabad.
Why was he trying to prove that he was there on a PBB posting? And not for her?? Why was he behaving in totally an opposite manner to what a normal person would do in a time like this? Did he really not bother?
Krish had been waiting for her reply. Anshuman tried to look away when he found his eyes locked to her eyes. Finally, he managed to escape and found his phone to pretend to look for the signals. Manasvi replied to Krish, in a soft voice, without removing her eyes from Anshuman.
“I don’t mind being proved wrong but I prefer confirming things instead of assuming them!”
Thanks for reading 🙂