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...
Thank you for reading this story. I’m glad that it connects with you like my previous stories have connected with you.
I hope to do justice with the story and retain your trust in me.
Love you loads. My heartfelt prayers for all of you. Stay safe. Stay blessed.
“He was here, yesterday. Looking devastated. Searching for you.” The official told her.
So she was right to think that Anshuman was pretending to be surprised about her presence in Afghanistan. His mother had confirmed the same. He not only knew that she was here but he was, in fact, searching for her.
Manasvi took a moment to process this information. She thanked the official who acknowledged it with a smile.
“It’s none of my business but I’m sorry, I read your name and address at the certificate. You were born here and the address belongs to Kabul. But you have come from India. Usually, such requests are regarding citizenship.”
Manasvi became uneasy. She had heard about cases where extra information jeopardized an individuals’ chances of visa, certificates, and citizenship. She didn’t want any more complications with more people being involved. She just smiled in reply and hoped that he didn’t create any problem for her.
The official continued, “So, you came from India for citizenship documents? Don’t you have anyone in Afghanistan to do it for you?”
Manasvi nodded uncomfortably, wondering if she should give more details to him. But she didn’t want to lie. So she told him the truth, “No!”
The official nodded and took out his visiting card to give it to her, “I get it. Take this card. Henceforth, if you have any issue, any work that needs to be done here, or you need any documents, just remember that you have a brother in Afghanistan.”
Speechless, Manasvi took the card in her hand. Feeling guilty at the same time, she said, “I’m sorry, I thought, you would…”
“I won’t create any problem for you.” He smiled warmly, “Trust me. You can contact me even while you are here. I will help you as much as I can.”
“Thank you.” She could only whisper, feeling deeply indebted to the guy for this noble gesture. She clutched the birth certificate in her hand and left the office.
Anshuman was waiting for her at the central space beyond the stairs leaning by the wall. He stood straight when he saw her approaching him. She looked at him pointedly and wondered how this guy was an enigma unknown to anyone around him.
Including his family, did anyone know him at all? Anyone?!!
This man pretended that he didn’t know that she was in Afghanistan but the official told her that he was searching for her. In fact, he looked devastated when he was in the registrar’s office.
Didn’t he reach Afghanistan last evening only? The nurse had told her about that. That means he arrived by the Dubai flight. As his mother said. That means he started searching for her as soon as he landed here.
If he was in a hurry to get her documents made to get rid of her as soon as possible, why was he hiding it?
Anshuman smiled lightly when she approached him. Manasvi didn’t smile at all. She was annoyed. But more than that… much…much more than that… she was confused. She didn’t know what was going in Ashuman’s mind. And she wanted to know it.
Anshuman wondered why she was not smiling. Instead, she was observing his face, keenly. He took the certificate from her hand and read it carefully. Each and every row. Every column.
Then, he smiled in relief, “That’s great. A big issue is resolved.”
“Hmm.” She simply made a soft sound, still not leaving the sight of his volatile face. He was such a mystery. A riddle beyond her capabilities of comprehension and analysis. He was so good at staging an image that he was not. But what was he? Who was he? Why was he so aloof and indifferent? Pretending that he didn’t care.
“Now, you can go back safely.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” She said.
“Huhh?” Surprised, he raised his eyes to meet hers.
“I mean…” She was still not prepared to question him. She could never. She knew that. Barely they had started talking now after so many years of just knowing that the other existed on the face of the earth. She didn’t want to behave impulsively and lose the small connect she had with him. Nor did she want to embarrass him by telling him that she knew that he was lying. If he did something, he must have valid reasons. Her respect for him was too high to be shaken by a small incident. Too high to be able to question him.
But she did want to know more. Know ‘him’ more. Know what he thought – about things in general, about them, about her!
The more she vowed that she will stay away from him, the more she was drawn to him.
“You meant? What?” He prompted her when he found her quiet. Now, he was standing before her with an adorable, questioning look, twisted lips and eager-to-know stare.
“I mean… I’ll have to go to Kabul to get the Tazkira made and it seems it will be easier if I get the passport renewed here itself.”
He nodded in agreement, “Sounds like a good idea.”
“Hmm.” She was relieved.
“Let’s go.” He walked ahead. She followed. When he started driving, he took the highway out of the city.
She turned to him, “Didn’t you say that you had work in the city?”
“Err…” He was now fishing for excuses, evidently seen on his face, as he fumbled, “The market is closed today as a protest against the blast last evening.”
“Ouch! You didn’t know that when you asked for the car?” She softly asked, in a low voice.
“Mmm-hmm!” He didn’t speak much and kept driving towards the PBB camp. It was so obvious that he had taken a 2-hour break from his duties and asked for the car to take her to the registrar’s office and bring her back. He had come to meet Krish in the morning, only to ask Manasvi to come to the registrar’s office. But he pretended like he was going to drop her on the way.
How this man elevated himself after every small and big incident related to her was an inscrutable puzzle for her. Could she ever do that for anyone? Ever? He was so inspiring. Why would someone not want credit for something he did? Not only did but went out of the way to do it?
After some time, she turned to him, “Dr. Shekhawat…”
“Hmm…yeah?” He was distracted as even he was immersed deep into his thoughts.
“Do you really won’t mind if I write a story about you?”
“It depends on whether you really want to do it.”
“I do! I really want to do it. Now that I am here for a few more days, I think I should do some work, provided they permit us and highlight the good works of PBB. Not a lot of people know about this organization. It is so inspiring.” She knew that she was talking about PBB but her words were true even for Anshuman.
He smiled warmly, “I don’t mind it. Do what makes you happy.”
This time, she smiled warmly too. At least, these few days would give her a chance to stay around Anshuman and know more about him.
They didn’t talk after this. The silence between them was uncomfortable but they had nothing between them that could form a trail of communication from him to her. They didn’t know each other’s likes or dislikes. They didn’t know about how they had passed the last few years, their limited friends or job-related issues. They didn’t know how normal people couldn’t stop talking when they connected. Here, they had only talked a few times before this and every time, it was related to some work or some issue. There had been no small talks or random funny conversations between them. These two things formed the basis of the regular, informal association between two people.
It had always remained formal between them.
Manasvi looked outside the window and observed the landscapes for the next forty minutes. The dusty, sandy, deserted fields; broken, worn-out houses; unrepaired roads; and local folks walking with their camels. So different from the city of Jalalabad, which was well-built, beautiful and green. Anshuman drove quietly and tried not to say anything.
The discomfort vanished after a few minutes, to be replaced by peace. It is frequently easy for two introverted, less talkative loners to stay peacefully around each other without speaking any word.
When they reached the PBB camp, Anshuman dropped her at the central space near the main center of the camp. She stepped down and turned around after closing the door. He gave her a long look, blinked once as if in the assurance that she need not worry about anything, he will sort out everything, and after that, he drove away to park the car.
Manasvi went back to Krish and told him about the certificate. He was happy for her, as well.
“I’ll go and keep this certificate in my tent. You take care of yourself.” She said.
“Don’t worry about me. I have my afternoon sorted. There is this ward boy who is a local Afghan working with PBB people. He has agreed to talk to me about local politics and the role of PBB in helping these people. The camp is here for a year. A few doctors came yesterday. Few are working for a long time.”
Manasvi nodded with as blank a face as possible. And when he finished, she said, “I learn so much while working with you. You are hurt, taking medicines and pain killers, and down on the bed in pain. But all you can think of and talk about is work. Hats off.”
“I am not the only one. A lot of people in the world are like me, who love their jobs. I am told that Dr. Anshuman Shekhawat is one of them.”
“I know.” She spoke on an impulse, realizing only later when Krish was gaping at her.
He shrugged and asked, “How do you know?”
She was clueless for a minute on what to say, “I’m sharing the tent with Amanda, remember?”
“Oh yes!” Krish grinned at the mention of Amanda making Manasvi roll her eyes and leave with a grin on her face.
Manasvi sat on her cot in the tent holding the certificate in her hands, looking at it like a precious possession, the last connection she had with this land, her parents, her home. Then, she sighed deeply fighting the heaviness on her chest.
“Had lunch?” Amanda entered inside the tent and threw her white coat and stethoscope on the cot before she picked up her water bottle kept on the floor near the cot.
Manasvi was distracted. She checked the time in her wristwatch. It was 3:00 pm.
“Why? Come with me…let’s go.”
“Isn’t it late for lunch?”
“It goes like that for us,” Amanda shrugged in a matter-of-fact way, and said, “There are no timings for any of us… we never have food on time… sometimes the OPD is so busy that it is almost 5 pm by the time we have any morsel of food.”
“That tough?” Manasvi asked, inadvertently thinking about Anshuman. He was with her when they came from Jalalabad. So he mustn’t have eaten as well. But she couldn’t ask Amanda about him.
For her, she was still his girlfriend, unless any of them gave a hint that she was not.
“What is this?” Amanda asked, looking at the printed document in Manasvi’s hand. Manasvi stretched her hand towards her. Amanda took it and read it.
“Ooohh!! So you are an Afghan national? Cool!”
Manasvi smiled and didn’t know what to reply to her. What sounded cool to Amanda was the toughest part of her past. But there was no way she was going to narrate all of it to her. So she stayed quiet.
“But you came from India to get this certificate? Why?”
“Long story…” Manasvi spoke in short.
Amanda wasn’t even interested, which was a great relief to her. Instead, she stared at this certificate for a moment more and said, “So, THIS was the work that Anshuman had in Afghanistan for which he got his posting changed?”
“He got his posting changed?” Manasvi stood up, shaking her head almost disbelievingly.
“Yes. He was supposed to go to Mexico. He asked for it to be changed to Afghanistan. When the head wasn’t sure if he will be granted the swap, he asked for a leave… saying that he had important work in Afghanistan and he would take a leave to do it. He even left before all of us and came separately, before us.”
Manasvi stood astounded for a moment. Then, she took her certificate from Amanda and carefully tucked it in a hardbound file holder so that it didn’t fold or tear before stuffing the folder in her rucksack, between her clothes. Then she locked it back and kept it below her cot.
She tried not to face Amanda for her baffled look could be easily read on her face. Amanda shrugged and asked in a carefully guarded voice, “He said that you are family friends and your parents were friends too. But why did you say that you don’t know much about each other? That you are not even friends?? Didn’t he go with you to the city today? Was the trip for this certificate?”
Amanda tried to make it sound as casual and normal as possible. Without accusing her. Without making it sound rude. But Manasvi could hear the envy in Amanda’s voice. She not only knew about Anshuman’s whereabouts that he had gone with Manasvi but she couldn’t stop asking Manasvi about him.
Manasvi had never faced such a situation before in her life. Already her feelings for Anshuman were taking several turns for last few weeks. The emotions she had ignored in the last seven years were now growing inside her, slowly and gradually, now that they had started talking and she was getting to know more about him. To add to the injury, she knew nothing about what went inside his mind. What he thought, what he wanted and why he did, all that he did. For her. For everyone else.
Now, on top of that, Amanda had added her own problems to her. She had been so good to Manasvi. She was a nice girl too. Manasvi had no idea how to reduce the pain Amanda felt for nothing. The pain of jealousy can be awful. It gnaws on the soul of a person, eating away his self-esteem and peace, bit by bit.
She sighed, and replied, “Amanda, it’s true that Anshuman accompanied me to the city today. Yes, it was for my birth certificate. He is helping me because we know each other for long. But what I said was correct. We don’t know much about each other. And we are not friends. We were never friends.”
Amanda smiled and almost sighed in relief. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound rude.”
“You were not.” Manasvi smiled too.
“Okay, so maybe his parents asked him to help you.” Amanda wondered about the reason why Anshuman nearly rushed to help Manasvi.
Manasvi was still thinking about Amanda’s revelations of how Anshuman made changes in his schedule to be with her. Almost absent-mindedly, she shrugged, weighing the suggestion, “Maybe!”
“Even I was surprised. He is the most dedicated doctor. He has never done that before. Maybe, his mom told him to do it.” It seemed Amanda was trying to justify to herself why Anshuman did that as she didn’t want to believe that it was for Manasvi.
“Amanda, can I ask you something?” Manasvi asked, out of the blue.
“Why did you say yesterday that you need my help? What help you were seeking for?”
“I wanted you to help me know what is going in his mind. The deeper thoughts buried inside him.”
Manasvi smiled and nodded hopelessly.
“To get Anshuman to reveal his deeper thoughts, you will have to break through all the walls he has safely constructed around him to protect himself.”