She could palpate his raging emotions troubling him that he couldn’t control. To add fuel to his fire, she added in a cautious tone, “I don’t care. It doesn’t even matter if I die…”
He replied almost instantly, without thinking, without letting her complete it –
“It DOES matter to ME. And I won’t let anything happen to you, as long as I am alive.”
This one sentence wasn’t just a simple sentence. It had a thousand emotions. It was accompanied by a look on his face that said that he was nervous. He was worried. For her. He was panic-stricken. He was anxious and his sinking heart displayed itself on his face, in his eyes, in the ragged breath that he took. His throat that choked with it told her that their relationship was a bond tying them through an emotion called pain.
The pain that reached her in as raw a form as it originated at his end. The pain that made them aware of each other’s distress more than anything else. If she was ready to die for him, he promised that he could burn the entire world down for her but won’t let even a scratch on her skin.
She wasn’t happy to hear what he said. She was anguished more than she already was. Why was he testing her like this? She wondered. What did he want from her? She could do anything for him. Anything. But he didn’t ask for anything. He never acknowledged that they bonded with each other. For him, nothing existed. Then why couldn’t he leave her alone? Why couldn’t he let her be on her own? Or worse, let her die?
Miffed, and unable to bear the pain that weighed her down, she winced. The pain hurt her so much that she could feel her heart taking each beat and cry in agony with that. Her eyes stared at him straight. In a teary whisper, she asked, “Didn’t you say last night that we will never talk again? Didn’t you ask me to stay away from you?”
He cleared his throat and tore his eyes away, pressing his lips. He had nothing to say to her. A tear dropped from each of her eyes, her throat choked and she bit her lower lip. It seemed as if there was nothing more left to talk. She wiped the tears falling down on her cheeks. If she had to live with them, then she will have to get used to them and get used to hiding them, as she had always done all her life. It was a part of her destiny now because it was no denying that she loved him and loved him too much. And there was nothing she could do about it. She had no idea when she fell so hopelessly in love with him. But the damage was already done.
She sat straight and got up on her feet to stand up and go away. Before she could get up, she felt her elbow grasped in his strong hold. Painfully, she turned her face to look at him. He was angry, once again. He murmured, “Can’t you stay in one place? Why do you have to move around so much?”
“Why do you care?” She softly hissed in an upset tone.
She had spoken in anger but he could sense the shrill, choking voice behind that anger. Even when she had wiped the tears, he could make out how her eyes were moist, how she had just wiped the moisture from her eyes, as her eyelashes were still wet and her face was drawn. As if life wasn’t already gruelling that she had to challenge him further by dropping tears and being sad about things that were not under their control.
He struggled with himself and replied, in a furious tone, almost gritting his teeth, “No, I don’t care about you. It’s just that I can’t allow ANYONE to get killed in my presence.”
She hissed, with her beautiful black doe-eyes on his deep brown ones, “Don’t worry, I won’t get killed. If I was destined to die in this warfare, I would have died the day I witnessed it for the first time, when I was eight years old, the day my baba died. But I didn’t. I was saved to endure this life. I know that I won’t die easily.”
He was shaken when she said that. She had spoken in one go, without taking a break, without even intending to share her pain with him, but her feelings became a deluge which broke all dams to drown everything that came in the way. She hated that she said that. She didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want sympathy. Agonized further, she tried to free her elbow from his hold and tried to move away. But he was firmer and stronger. He didn’t allow her to move.
She winced and frowned and pulled her elbow strongly. He clenched his jaw but didn’t leave her. Instead, his grip tightened and pulled her back. His pull was stronger and she was hauled to land near him. His eyes didn’t leave her face even for a single moment, threatening to tear apart her layers to caress her soul. She didn’t shy away from his eyes, either. She looked straight at him. Clueless. And speechless. What did he want? He couldn’t bear her close to him. He couldn’t even let her go away from him. It was heartbreaking and so distressing.
She moved her eyes on his face but couldn’t read any anger, any hatred for her. He only held concern for her. But he behaved otherwise. As if it was hard to admit that he felt for her more than ANYONE else like he falsely claimed. Why? She didn’t know. She, once again, tried to move away. His fingers, curled around her elbow, refused to relent. She was instinctively drawn towards him but she had to keep her sane mind on her shoulders and she resisted moving towards him. His hand jerked her so softly that she didn’t realize that she was at a hands distance from him.
Softly, on a dry throat, she whispered, “Dr. Shekhawat…”
He didn’t say anything this time. He slightly frowned but kept his lips sealed. She heaved a deep sigh and murmured, “Anshuman…”
“Hmm?” He sighed, knowing very well that he was failing himself, his resolves, his toughness. Why did he even try? As if he had any chance before her compelling softness. As if her eloquent eyes would allow his cold stares to survive. As if the beauty of her agony would allow itself to be smothered by the ruthlessness of his indifference.
She looked at her elbow in his grasp, and said, “You have to let me go!”
“I don’t know. Any place that is away from you.” She couldn’t stop her eyes from welling up, again.
His face couldn’t hide the searing intensity rushing from his eyes to his lips, traversing every troubled crease on his face and reaching back to his eyes as a scorching fire. He said, “I will let you go. But not now. I will leave you at a safe place, myself.”
“Whyyyy???” She whispered, painfully, furiously, desperately, almost on the verge of tears. Since he was distracted, she pulled her hand away in a jerk. She stood up, and started walking away, “I don’t need your favours anymore. It kills me.”
He was very, very angry at this callousness. When he had asked her to lay down and be safe, she had actually stood up and was walking away. Though they were on the terrace. But even a small carelessness on their part could attract unwanted attention both from extremist groups and the army. Since there was nothing clear, there could be indiscriminate firing, killing both of them. How callous can someone be?!
He sprang to his feet the next moment, furiously held her hand, and dragged her smoothly behind the wall where they were hiding before. This wall was separated from the rest of the area and was facing the valley. They were comparatively safer here.
His anger had no bounds by now. He tucked her to the wall with her back plastered to it. He placed his hands on the wall, on each side of her shoulder and almost trapped her. His eyes were almost a burning furnace, smouldering fire at her. With his jaw clenched, he spat fiery words, one at a time, so angrily that she was shaken, “What. Is. Your. Problem?”
She didn’t speak anything. Her terrified eyes stayed locked to his. Softly, she nodded. Wondering if she could simply curl her arms around him and tell him that – ‘All will be well’ – but the thought stayed buried in her heart. She was as hurt as him. Maybe more than him.
He huffed and hissed, almost giving up before her, and spoke in a helpless voice, “Manasvi, why are you making my life more difficult?”
She winced, “What about my life?”
He didn’t reply to her. Instead, his eyes softened, with the most loving look in them. As if he could caress her with just those looks. He sighed, “Your life deserves to be the most beautiful life in this world.”
She couldn’t believe that he just said that. The look in those eyes, for her; the softness in his words; the helplessness in his voice spoke another language that he always tried to hide.
“Beautiful?” She questioned. This one word had a deep question for him.
He said, “At least, I try my best to ensure that.”
“I don’t want your favours, I’ve already told you.”
“Then what do you want?”
His eyes and words toughened again. Knowing very well what she had in her mind. But also knowing that she will not say that. Her heart was beating hard. She knew that it would be shameless and bold to say it in words. But his care, concern, his words, and looks had empowered and encouraged her to do so. She knew that if she didn’t say that, she will never be able to tear through his walls, they might never meet again after they separate from here, maybe Anshuman will begin to avoid her harder than before. Maybe they will never have another chance to be talking like this. She had to have this chance. At least, she would be content that she tried.
“What?” He asked again, leaning ahead, his breath fanning over her cheeks, his hands on the wall by her sides, and his body leaning before her, almost at a hand’s distance.
You. Was almost on the tip of her tongue. But she didn’t say it in words. She simply looked at him with all the love in her heart, with a deep longing in her moist eyes, softly gulped at her throat and heaved a sigh so deeply that it made his heart beat so hard. He could read that ‘you’ in her eyes, even when she didn’t say it.
His face was so close to hers that if any of them moved, they could easily kiss. His eyes drifted from her eyes towards her soft, parted lips and then returned back to her eyes. Overwhelmed, he picked up a thin curl falling on her face and took it behind her ear, but she held his hand and stopped it midway. She didn’t let him tuck that curl behind her ear or touch her. She moved his hand away. He smiled helplessly and straightened himself, removing his hands from the wall and freeing her.
With a deep breath to shrug off the crazy emotions troubling him, he moved away from her, but she wasn’t going to let him get away so easily. Not today.
This time, she held his hand. She curled her fingers at his wrist. He stopped. Looked at her fingers holding his wrist and then looked at her.
He sighed, and spoke, “I have a girlfriend.”
She smiled painfully, “I would have believed that. If you hadn’t said that she was Amanda.”
He took a deep, difficult breath, and stammered, “No… she is…”
“You are lying.” She spoke so confidently that it was enough to shock him and defend himself ferociously.
“No, Manasvi…” He tried to refute her claim as firmly as he could.
She stared at him squarely, showing him that she didn’t believe him, exerting pressure on his wrist, when he tried to be free. This time, she was not ready to leave him. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the strength to jerk his hand away. He could do that but he didn’t. Her hand was too delicate to be jerked away.
“Where is that girlfriend, right now?” She asked, “She didn’t even know where you are…”
“Err… it is a protocol to save yourself… you know…” He fumbled.
She smiled sarcastically and shrugged, “When you saved me from the speeding bus, even that must be protocol, right? You didn’t save her? Your girlfriend?”
He spread his free hand in the air and defended himself, “She is trained… I mean… she could have saved herself…”
Manasvi was infuriated. She left his hand and huffed, “Anshuman, please stop lying… please?”
He folded his hands at his chest and leaned his back at the wall, resting one foot on the wall. With a shrug, he declared that he had given up and she could continue to talk. She turned around to stand facing him, this time, and pressed her lips for a moment, observing him. His face was facing down at the floor while his tongue rolled inside his mouth, scraping his gums.
She said, “Today morning, when we entered the pantry, Amanda didn’t even notice your bad mood, your swollen, and red eyes. She doesn’t know which language is spoken in India. She plans to visit India and asks me to host her, while you and your family could easily do that. You are almost never seen with her. Even on a camp like this, you don’t spend time with her. Instead, every night, you ask me to meet you, at the cliff. At the site of an accident, you instinctively save me, not her. When the terror strikes, she runs towards the escape route and not you. And, you really want me to believe that she is your girlfriend?”
Anshuman tucked his lower lip under his upper teeth and raised his eyes to look at her. Almost apologetic at being caught so unceremoniously. She had tore apart his biggest lie in one sweep.
He sighed, “Sorry.”
“So, I was right?”
He nodded to accept and unfolded his arms to thrust his hands in his trousers pockets.
“Why?” She softly whispered.
He shrugged, “So that you say yes to the divorce without any questions and the process is expedited.”
“You dislike me so much? You don’t even have a girlfriend, but you lied, only to expedite the process?”
“It’s not about like or dislikes. I didn’t even know you, at that time.”
“I just knew that I am married to a girl, only for the sake of documents. Since seven years were over and you could apply for official papers, I thought, it was best to be free of the tangles of a forced bond. Both of us have every right to begin life at a new note, without any shackles of formalities binding us.”
“Formalities?” Her throat choked. Her eyes were nearly hardened. Was she being too impulsive when allowing him a window to her feelings? Was her heart about to be broken, mercilessly?
“That’s what I thought. Our marriage was always a responsibility. A formality.”