Thank you for being patient with me. I've finished most of the projects I had set out for, in this break. I will post about them soon. For now, I won't come between you and the update :D I hope you all are safe, healthy, and coping well. Love you all... a lot... ........................................................... She grasped his shirt at his shoulders when she was near him, terrifi...
“Yes! The SDF rescued us in Syria. After this short break, I’m commissioned to Israel.”
Manasvi couldn’t move after accidentally overhearing this one sentence. As if a thick coat of fresh wet cement glued her feet to the terrace floor. Her heart was beating hard… so hard that it threatened to leap out of her throat.
She chewed a part of her lower lip and couldn’t decide what she should do.
Anshuman was rescued by SDF in Syria??? Is that why he had so many injuries on his forearm and forehead? And he was now going to Israel? Why did everyone, including her, thought that he worked in New York?
She was still thinking about it when she heard his footsteps, as he turned around. She closed her eyes momentarily, nervous at having to face Anshuman for the first time in her life. That too, with a secret he had been guarding from everyone.
Anshuman had his phone tucked to his ear when he turned about. He was stunned to find a feminine figure standing near the terrace door. She was clad in a light yellow salwar, white and yellow kurta with tiny green leaves embroidered in a set pattern on the kurta. Green dupatta was wrapped around her torso that was taken overhead to lightly wrap her head. She had a book in her hand.
‘Oh God! Did I overlook her while talking? Was I so busy on phone? How much did she hear?’
He took swift steps to reach her, almost intimidating her. She squirmed. Quickly she lowered her eyelids and clutched her fingers over the book she had been holding. He observed her from tip to toe – her lowered eyelids, lower lip pressed under her teeth, and fingers digging on the cover of the book. She was clearly nervous.
He had noticed her when he had met Preksha and his mom in his mom’s room downstairs. For a moment, he was taken aback as it had never happened in last seven years that they had ever crossed paths with each other. In fact, they had never been to Shekhawat house for the same function ever before. So, her presence was a surprise for him. She hadn’t changed much, only that she looked like a woman now. Seven years ago, she had looked like a baby.
In fact, that was the first thing he noticed about her. Seven years back, he got married to a girl who looked like a schoolgirl. She had been just out of school, so it wasn’t wrong actually. She had just completed her schooling before coming to India.
She had baby looks, with plump lips and chubby cheeks. Her long black hair was oiled and tied in two braids. Her eyes had been a contrast to her baby looks even then. They were dark, deep and poignant, holding thousands of mysteries in them. Holding millions of words to be released. When she had looked at him for the first time, seven years back, he had been shaken by the depth and pain in those eyes. Her fetus-looks were just a deception, he had noticed even then. She had been an epitome of strength.
Her oily hair and braids were gone now. Her hair was now let loose to reveal how silky they were. They cascaded down her shoulder and upper back and rebelled against the dupatta on her head. She wore small silver hoops in her ears, the steel strap watch on her wrist and a simple gold chain in her neck with a pendant of an angel with wings – She appeared confident, independent and determined in contrast to the worried, nervous and apprehensive girl of eighteen years.
Today, nothing else had much changed. She was still tiny and appeared to be delicate. But from what he had heard and known about her, about how she had completed her graduation and post-graduation in Journalism and Mass communication, living alone in Mumbai, without asking for even a penny’s help from Shekhawats, working part-time while studying to manage her expenses, leaving the job at a big news agency after working for few months – every news about her told him this girl was anything but delicate and weak. She was an epitome of strength even now!
He stood right before her, tapping his phone on his other hand, clueless about what to say and how to say it. Her eyes were still low. She had them fixed on her feet, with her toes curled in. Just like her lips, her fingers and toes were curled in because of nervousness. He stayed quiet and she knew that his eyes were fixed on her.
Slowly, she lifted her eyelids up and looked at him. This was the third time that they were looking at each other since morning. Two times in Madhu’s room, accidentally. And now, with no one around them.
He was moved.
Her eyes were exactly the same – dark, deep, poignant, mysterious. Just as they had been seven years back. God only knew how much pain, tortures and death, these beautiful eyes had seen.
He couldn’t turn his eyes away from her eyes. He wished he could follow the good manners that people vouched for when it came to him. That staring at a girl was bad manners. That meeting someone for the first time and gawking unabashedly was bad manners. He didn’t care. Nor could he tell him that whatever she had heard was his secret no one knew about. She was not supposed to tell this to anyone. He didn’t say that.
It didn’t appear necessary to say that. None of them knew why.
In usual cases, people warn each other not to disclose their secrets to anyone and got promises about the same. But in their case, it appeared understood.
Manasvi knew that no one was aware about the details of Anshuman’s work. Nothing about Syria and Israel. In fact, it appeared that it was a usual case for him to work across borders created by humans but connected by humanity.
She wished she could assure him that she will not share it with anyone. Not until he said. She was aware how Madhu had been worried about him when he was in Kashmir.
None of them spoke anything and after a long moment of eye lock, nervous tapping of the phone. and a few jaw movements later, Anshuman shrugged softly, turned to the door and left the terrace. Manasvi turned around and leaned her back to the wall of the terrace.
Hundreds and thousands of thoughts darted through her mind in a quick tandem. Anshuman’s lie. Madhu’s relief. Preksha’s pride that her brother was in a big private hospital in NYC. Worries about Anshuman’s safety.
He was doing a noble job, albeit dangerous.
For seven years, she had admired him from a distance. She had imagined a figure from the family albums and made him come alive from the descriptions given by Preksha, Madhu and dadi. She respected that one single gesture that had changed her life forever. It was in his genes to take care of everything around him. He must be a mess himself. Which boy would want to marry at 21 to an unknown female and stay so for next 7 years of his life. She wanted to know what he felt about it, about her, about their marriage and how frustrated he felt. How he dealt with that feeling of being trapped in a web of obligations. She knew that he never talked about it to anyone, so she had no clue.
She had no clue about him at all. He carried an aura of mystery around him. There was more to his personality than it met the eye. And it was confirmed today!
She was intrigued.
She wanted to know more about him. She wanted to talk to him. But then, immediately she checked herself!! No! She wasn’t supposed to think about him, or want to talk to him.
He had a girlfriend. And he was going to propose her for marriage.
Anshuman descended the stairs quickly for the first few stairs, then he stopped and turned around to throw a glance towards the terrace. It was an unexpected interaction. He wished to talk more to her. To tell her more about his life and remind her that he was looking forward to divorce this year.
The grand event in the evening ensured several happy faces, lots of fun and laughter. Preksha looked exquisitely pretty in her designer lehenga in deep purple and cream. It was lightly embroidered in sequins and beadwork. Her jewellery and accessories chosen carefully by Manasvi and Madhu perfectly matched the attire.
The couple in highlight at the event exchanged rings and cut a cake to mark their engagement. Relatives from both the sides congratulated and hugged each other and youngsters proceeded for a dance on the dance floor, brought to life by a vivacious DJ.
Manasvi had stayed with Preksha all along her journey from the house to the beauty salon, helped her get ready and was like a shadow to her until she got engaged.
But once the ceremony was over, Preksha became busy with Varun and his family and with everyone else in the party hovering around them, meeting them, clicking pictures etc.
All of a sudden, Manasvi was left alone. She slowly took a few steps away from the main venue and picked up a glass of water to look busy. Madhu, RajSingh and their extended family had a responsibility to take care of the people from the groom’s side. They were also meeting guests from their Delhi circle, army people, relatives on both sides, neighbours, club friends etc. Preksha was as busy as rest of the Shekhawats. Manasvi felt like an outsider.
No matter how strong she had been on the outside, for the world to witness. Deep inside, she was still that little girl, craving for years and years for few basic things almost everyone seemed to have. Everyone, except her.
Basic things like a family of her own and someone who would notice her absence and miss her.
After a few minutes spent in a corner, she found Anshuman coming towards her taking slow steps. He looked at her for a fleeting moment and went straight to the ‘water canopy’ just behind her. Slowly, he picked up a sealed water bottle and opened it as leisurely as he could. He appeared in no hurry.
Every time he was near her, Manasvi felt nervous. But this time, she didn’t squirm. He took slow steps towards her noticing her keenly. She looked gorgeous in a peach and pink chiffon Sharara dress. Before he could say something, she moved her eyes towards his bandage on the forehead and hand. Injuries on arm and forearm were now hidden under his three-piece tuxedo, but he could do nothing about the scratches on the hand and a gash on the forehead, bandaged now.
He noticed her eyes darting from his forehead to his hand and now that she knew the source of the cuts, there was no point in hiding it. He moved his hand side to side and brushed it off, “It’s … err… nothing! Nothing serious, I mean…”
She nodded. He signaled towards the center stage slightly, using his thumb and said, “Why don’t you join us? Why are you standing alone?”
She gulped a huge blob of saliva and stammered, well aware that she was speaking to him face to face, for the first time in her life, “Err… nah… I’m… I don’t know… I’m fine here!”
She nodded, “Yeah! And I don’t want to spoil the fun.”
“I don’t know how to say this… Please don’t mind. Mom, dad and Preksha don’t even realise that they have been caught up… I mean… they would have never meant to leave you alone!”
She smiled and quickly negated it, “No…no… I don’t blame them. I understand. I was …I mean… I wanted to be alone… I was feeling awkward there…”
He pressed his lips and turned towards the crowd, and turned to her again, as if apologizing, “I was there with my cousins and relatives… Again, I will be called in a while…”
“Please carry on… I’m fine…”
He turned around to check if someone was calling him. He found his cousins and friends looking for him. Again, he turned to her and said, “Please join us!”
“I can’t…” Previously, she was worried about his family and relatives bitching about them. Now, there was an additional family clueless about the circumstances of their marriage and unaware of a lot of things. There was no point being a center of attraction and embarrassing the Shekhawats in case they had to give explanations.
She softly requested, “If you can please ask a driver to drop me home…”
Anshuman understood and respected her right to privacy. He was not someone to pressurize others to join the party if they are not comfortable.
He nodded and escorted her towards the exit of The Claridges hotel, the party venue. They waited in the main entrance foyer while Anshuman called their trusted driver.
Manasvi folded her arms at the front, pulling the loose end of her soft pink odhani around her shoulders to ward off the cool midnight breeze. Her peach lehenga with soft embroidery in silver glittered in the light from the lamps arranged in a row outside the grand exterior of the five-star property. She turned sideways to throw a careful, long glance at Anshuman. He was on phone and this time, not looking at her. She could admire him without stealing glances at him. He looked unbelievably stunning in a black tuxedo. He was taller than almost everyone he crossed and smiled at people who wished him. His walk was poised and attractive. It was such a warm and secure feeling to walk beside him. He had an authority of an army officer and compassion of a doctor.
He warmly shook hands with some of the guests who were leaving and met them at the foyer. He thanked them for coming. Next, the driver he had called arrived and he opened the rear side door for her, signaling her to take the back seat.
She walked ahead and crossed him to stand by the opened door. Holding the car door, he asked again, “Are you sure you want to leave?” He asked, trying to read her eyes probing them for more, but once again he failed to read those large black eyes. They were a mystery to him.
“Yeah.” Softly she nodded. Quickly she added, “I have an early morning flight for Mumbai and I need to finish packing.”
“Alright, take care.”
“Yeah, I will. Thanks a lot.”
“What time is the flight?” He asked when she sat inside and he shut the door. He slightly leaned over the window to get the information.
“You need to reach the airport an hour before the departure and leave the house an hour before that…So, 4.15 am, that means?”
“That’s right.” She smiled slightly.
He gave instructions to the driver to maintain high safety measures while driving, to go directly to home, to not stop even if someone asks to and to keep the windows rolled up. Back to her, he apologized for not being able to drop her home personally as he was bride’s brother and he was expected to be present at the event till all of the guests left and till Preksha’s in-laws and relatives were there. She knew all that.
“I understand.” She smiled again before the car started moving and she rolled the windows up.
Anshuman stood there… at the same place, under the foyer… till the car disappeared in the dark and kept thinking about her.
“I know that you understand. And I hope you understand why you need to stay away from us!”