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 was safe, was the same way when she professed her thoughts in words to him. She really didn’t care if she had died. And it was the truth that she couldn’t leave him there and go with the evacuating buses. She simply couldn’t.
Bowled over by her stance and her hand on his chest, he realized that he was at a total loss of words. He stood astonished and taken aback, looking at her eyes at a hand’s distance. Her eyes remained locked to him. Her hand refused to move away from his chest. He opened his mouth to say something but didn’t know what he wanted to reply to this, so he wet his dry lips with his tongue and simply sighed. But didn’t speak.
The sound of boots increased as if some people had entered the OT. Anshuman held Manasvi’s hand, the one resting over her chest, and quickly hauled her towards one end of the small room. There was a small creek behind the almirah at the far end. This small space was created between the almirah and the wall of the fortress as the former didn’t fit in that small space. So it was kept at a distance from the wall. Anshuman signaled Manasvi to that space. She slowly stepped inside. He followed her. Only after he entered, they realized that the space was too small for the two of them. They were so close to each other that they could almost hear each other breathe. Her heart was beating hard, her fingers trembling at the idea of a possibility of a face-off with some extremists. He could hear the blood pounding in his brain, thinking of what he was going to do if they were caught, kidnapped, taken away, or maybe, killed.
This smaller room was used to store OT materials, sterile gauzes, oxygen cylinders, instruments, and spare articles to be used during an operation. The staff had quickly removed as many machines and surgical material as possible and loaded them in the evacuating buses. Anshuman had been helping people and instruments to be removed from Op and post-op ward when the sound of boots startled him. He rushed others to run away but got stuck as the sounds increased. He had no idea how he was going to evade the attackers when he saw Manasvi running inside the corridor. For a moment, his heart had leaped to his throat at that. He had pulled her in to save her but the seconds that passed before that were enough to tell him that he could do anything to save her. Even if it meant, facing the attackers and fighting with them.
The sounds of footsteps neared them as if someone had crossed the entire length of the OT and entered this small room. Manasvi squeezed her eyes frightfully. Anshuman placed his hand over her mouth, signifying that she was not supposed to make any sound. She nodded, in an attempt to tell him that she understood and won’t make any noise. Anshuman looked at her terrorized face, the sweat beads lacing her forehead, her troubled breaths, her closed eyes, and eyebrows puckered in the center. In the next moment, he drew her in his arms and tightly hugged her. She moved her hands at his shoulders and hugged him back, hoping a leash over her racing heartbeats.
The footsteps stopped at their room for a moment. Someone shouted to others, “No one is here. Go to the other side.”
In hardly one minute, the footsteps receded and people marched away. It was silence all over again. Anshuman waited for this minute before he realized that he had been holding Manasvi in his arms. She pressed her lips too and softly moved a step away from him. Without making it any more awkward for both of them, he slightly turned and peeped from behind the almirah.
There was no one. He turned his neck to look at her. She raised her brows to ask if they should move out. He nodded to refuse and leaned his back at the wall with a sigh. Clueless, she waited for his call to this situation. He leaned sideways towards her and whispered near her ears, “We should wait for some time before going out.”
She nodded to agree and turned to the side that he was – back at the wall and facing the almirah. She leaned her back at the wall too.
After a minute’s pause, they could hear more blasts outside, with the smell of burnt material increasing, fumes coming in through the window, and guns firing in a row. He slipped his hand in her hand, well aware of what she was going through, and dragged her out of the creek.
“Let’s go. There is firing outside. That means no one is inside.”
“But where will we go?” She whispered, “The buses have already left.”
“To any safe place…” He wondered aloud and made a dash through the OT. She followed him. Scared and nervous.
They crossed the corridor taking careful steps in a direction opposite to that of the sounds of commotion. The corridor ended in an open space. Anshuman tucked his back to the wall and peered into the open space. There was no one. He could see only the broken walls and the cliff by which they would sit at nights. He scratched his stubbled jawline using his index finger and chewed the inner part of his lower lip, carefully thinking what to do next.
“What happened?” She asked, hopefully looking at him as if she had left all her answers to him. He could take the call and she would simply follow.
“There is no one there. But we can’t take chances. We can run through this area and hope for the army to save us but it will be a blind bet. If we come across an extremist group, or between the tussle, we will be immediately killed.” He was worried, looking all through the corridor, rooms created to manage makeshift wards, extensions.
“Then what? Staying here, is as risky as going out.” She whispered.
He looked up, at the last threshold of the corridor, and said, “We’ll go to this part of the terrace, immediately above this corridor. The fight is going on in the outer area. They won’t come to the terrace.”
She nodded, thankfully, “Okay. Let’s go. Where are the stairs?”
He rolled his eyes and nodded as if she had asked a silly question and he didn’t even want to answer it. He stepped ahead, reached the threshold, checked the outer area once again, and then stood straight to determine the height of the terrace. It was very high. Even with his height of six feet and two inches, it was significantly higher. He raised both his hands up, straight and tried to reach it. It was still much above him.
Manasvi was observing him doing this with her eyes split wider than they already were, with a flustered, worried look on her face, and shock in her eyes. She couldn’t believe what he was doing. Anshuman didn’t give her much time to think and ask questions. He quickly jumped down the threshold, brought two pieces of brick, keeping them at the end, stepped over with one of his foot on the brick, rested the other on the wall nearby and jumped upwards with both his hands towards the terrace and was able to get to the edge of the slab in one go. The very next moment, his feet rested on the wall and he pulled himself up the terrace.
Manasvi had never seen someone so swift, so fit, and so confident. He didn’t even think, even for once that he could fall or not reach the top. He just gave it a shot and did it. And such a smooth slide. Her saliva was stuck in her throat as her mouth went dry. She quickly reached the edge and looked up, worrying, “You were trained for army. I was not… I can’t do that stunt.”
This made him smirk, very slightly. The situation they were in, right now, was scary and unfortunate and funny in its own way. Out of the entire world, these two had to remain stuck with each other. He pressed his lips to suppress the smirk and sighed with a soft whisper, “Add to that, your height!!”
She frowned as any reference to her height didn’t amuse her. She squeezed her eyes laterally and looked up at him with an annoyed pout. In another moment, her irritation turned into worry, again, when he lay down at the edge of the terrace, with his shoes tucked in the wall of the parapet, and lowered himself on the reverse, upside-down up to his waist with both his hands towards her and said, “hold me.”
She stepped up the bricks, and held the wall for balance before stretching to reach for his hands. When he grasped her hands in his own, he pulled her up with all her might. She was not sure if they will be able to manage it as she was scared of hurting him. She didn’t want him to fall because of her. She held his hands very strongly before he slipped his hands further and held her forearms, slowly snaking him backward on the terrace. He was confident because he was on the terrace up to his torso by now. But she was still terrified. She was in the air completely dependent on him and had nothing to hold on to, except him or support him in some way.
His eyes turned to her terrified face and stayed there for the sheer vulnerability of the moment. She was so delicate and soft that the only thought he had at that moment was that he wanted to protect her from all troubles, pain, and turmoils. Softly, he sighed –
“Don’t be scared. We are almost there.” He pulled her further up.
She grasped his shirt at his shoulders when she was near him, terrified and shaky, and whispered, “Please don’t leave my hand.”