“Stop giving me credit for everything. And you would have managed any way. I just happened to be there.”
“Stop refusing credit for everything.” She replied in the same tone as his.
“On one condition…” He found a perfect opportunity to corner her and he was not going to leave it in any case.
“What?” She widened her eyes, looking at him hopefully.
“You will stop blaming yourself for everything.”
She pressed her lips when he said that, and kept looking at him as if she was a lost baby, and he was a kind stranger promising to take her home. Her hand was still in his hand. His eyes fixed on hers. He was determined to keep pushing her to shed her guilt for making him go through hell. She was unable to tear down the thick clouds of remorse casing her heart layer by layer, making it difficult for her to breathe.
She slowly released her lips, and closed her eyes instead, only to curl on her side facing him and buried her face in his chest right below his shoulder. He curled his arm to gather her close and wrapped both of his arms around her in a tight hug.
She needed it. Nothing could console her as much as his assurance that he was there, with her, and he didn’t consider her responsible for his tribulations. She let her tears roll down on her cheeks, in an attempt to wash down the burden weighing over her chest.
None of them spoke anything after that. They knew they were together in it. And they needed to stand by each other.
When Anshuman opened his eyes because of the strong sunlight hitting his eyelids, the first thing he noticed was the duvet spread carefully over him, and he was alone on the bed. Manasvi was not there.
She stepped out of the washroom minutes later, ready for the day after washing and freshening up. She looked adorable in a pink chikankari short kurti and stone washed denim jeans. He sat up straight on the bed, observing her. She flashed a bright smile his way, “Good morning.”
“I slept so much.” He said, almost fighting a yawn.
“Hardly,” She said, “You have a fragile sleep. You kept waking every few minutes. And shudder in sleep.”
“So do you,” He said.
She had a faint smile in reply, as she remembered how she had never had a proper sleep where a person was almost dead to the world. For her, it was always a shaky, scary, disturbed sleep. To think, that she was not alone, and he suffered the same didn’t give her peace. Instead, it pained her. Her first response should have been the way she felt – like hugging him tightly and giving him comfort. But she didn’t.
None of them was so expressive. And their relationship had never been so casual.
Wrapping a scarf on her head, she said, “This scarf… it’s an old habit…it’ll take time to go. But I’ll think…”
He nodded to agree and give her time. She continued, hesitatingly, “I would have taken a leave if it was Mumbai…but…”
“But…I understand,” He interrupted her before she started feeling guilty again, and said, “I know that The Insight sent a team of reporters for this summit. You can’t be ditching work for personal reasons. Stay relaxed at my part about that. I would never want you to neglect your work. And I appreciate people who work sincerely.”
Relieved, she smiled widely. Then, almost as an afterthought, she asked, “Uhh…Shall I order tea or coffee for you?”
“I’ll do that myself. You proceed.”
She picked up her bag from the side table and realized that she didn’t want to go. Her heart was with Anshuman. They hadn’t talked. They hadn’t looked at each other enough. They hadn’t spent much time. There was so much to say. So much to listen.
She looked at him helplessly, before he whispered, in a very soft voice, “Go.”
She nodded and made a move towards the door. Then, she turned around and said, “Please don’t move around. The conference is in this hotel only.”
“So?” He shrugged.
“I don’t want Krish to see you.”
He twisted his lips, unable to understand why she didn’t want him to meet Krish. She clarified before he asked. “Krish knows that you were in Pakistan. He has been a part of the release process. And I don’t really know him well. Hardly since past 7-8 months, since I joined this group. But he is a journalist, after all. What if he takes your crossing the border as a scoop and writes about it? It may put you in trouble.”
He smiled at her innocent concern for him. Pure love, nothing else.
He asked, “What if Krish, or any of your friends comes in this room?”
She nodded to refuse, and then added softly, confidently, “I don’t give that sort of liberty to anyone. No man comes to my room. No one ever did. No one ever will. Except my husband.”
He grinned at her reply. She never failed to remind him that she was married to him. Not that he needed any reminder either. It remained engraved in his mind, and soul. Always.
In the afternoon, at the summit Manasvi was covering, she was listening to a speech sitting beside Krish. They were given a badge to be allowed inside the auditorium where only invited dignitaries could enter.
The press, from all digital, print, and live news media, had occupied the last few rows of seats. Bored, she turned sideways to look at the crowd when her eyes spotted Anshuman standing at the door, waiting for her to turn that side to attract her attention. Shocked, she sat straight, staring at him hopelessly, for a moment. He waved at her without raising his hands, by only curling his fingers for a wave, while his hand rested on his other hand crossed at his chest.
She turned sideways towards Krish to say, “I’ll be back.”
She whispered, “I need water.” Before he could say something, she stood up and rushed through the aisle to reach the exit door. She held his hand and dragged him towards a small corridor at the side of the auditorium, almost panic ridden, “Hey! What are you doing here? I told you not to roam around. What if… Krish…”
He was hardly bothered. He held her arms confidently, and said, “Look, I don’t care. Honestly, I don’t think Krish will do that. He cares for you. And he is a nice person, a good friend of yours.”
She was immensely surprised, and moved when he said that. She asked, “And this doesn’t make you feel jealous?”
“No. Jealousy breeds from insecurity. And I’m not insecure about us.” He shrugged, and added, “But I had to meet you, right now.”
She didn’t like the tone in which he said that. As if it was urgent. As if it meant something more than it actually was. She didn’t like when things went fast and out of hand. It made her nervous. “What was the urgency?”
“I have to go back.” He declared.
She knew that her apprehensions were correct. She almost panicked, all over again, “No. Please. You can’t go. We haven’t even talked. We need to…”
He held her shoulder and softly stroked it, “Listen, first. Preksha’s wedding was due within one month after her engagement. It has been close to 8 months, and they had been delaying it since I was not there. But Mom, Dad and especially Dadi don’t want to delay it anymore. So, Dad has decided to talk to her in-laws so that the wedding takes place in a simple ceremony with a few close relatives from each side. Later they can go for a grand reception, if they want. But at least, the wedding should happen now. That’s what everyone wants. Dad called me to say that they are going to meet them at dinner, tonight, and talk about it. Manasvi, I want to be there for this. With them.”
She sighed. And nodded to agree. “You should go.”
“I’ll call you.”
“Hmm.” She felt like crying but she didn’t. She kept her patience, like always. Waited for her turn, after everyone had their share of his love. Like always.
“I really hope Preksha gets married before I go back to join work again. I’ll be relaxed. And once the date is fixed, I’ll get your tickets booked. You will come, right?” He asked.
“You don’t have to ask.” She said, fighting an urge to hug him.
Maybe he was thinking the same but didn’t do it because there were people around, and it was a hotel. He didn’t want to embarrass her in case someone from his office spotted them. In a quick move, he slightly lowered, held her shoulder and planted a fleeting kiss on her forehead. In another move, he stepped away. It might have lasted hardly a few seconds, but it meant the world to her.
“Take care.” He said, touching her cheek softly.
Anshuman left by the afternoon flight to Delhi. Manasvi returned to sit beside Krish, half-heartedly.
“What happened? You look off? Even last night you were so lost.” Krish commented.
Manasvi shrugged, without replying to him in words. What could she tell him? So much happened between last night and this afternoon, that it was hard for her to believe. As if her life had returned to give her a breather for a few moments, before leaving her after a short reminder that she was still alive.
Krish didn’t expect her to reply. She hardly ever answered any of his questions, anyway.
As promised, Anshuman called her at night to tell her about the dinner he attended right after reaching Delhi. How his parents were keen on Preksha’s marriage and how her in-laws were understanding and considerate people.
Nothing could be more soothing for her to hear him speak. She could listen to him for all day and all night. He told her about Preksha, Dadi, and how Mom was asking about her, how people his side wanted to meet her.
She lay down on her bed, listening to him, touching the linen, and the pillow where he had rested his head, smelling the fragrance and feeling warmth he had left there last night. She curled herself inside the duvet, imagining and reliving his presence.
“It’s on next Sunday.” He informed her.
“One week later.”
“Not even a week. Only six days left…”
“When will you come?” He asked directly. She could feel the thrill in his voice. It had a spark that reflected his disheveled state of mind, and heart. He was missing her. He wanted her to be there, and he didn’t shy away from saying that. Pretty unlike Anshuman. But since she had started blaming herself, and feeling more awkward, he had started bridging those gaps between them.
She could feel her heart beating hard. She would have gone immediately, taking the next flight, if she could. She replied, “We are going back to Mumbai tomorrow. I’ll finish the work and take a leave day after tomorrow.”
“Fine. Let me know the time when you will be free. I’ll get the tickets booked.”
“I’ll do that myself. You focus on Preksha’s wedding. Lot of things will need to be done if we are getting only six days.”
His mind recorded one word separately from the entire sentence – ‘We’ – She had said that ‘we’ are getting six days to prepare. For his sister’s wedding. It was a small thing if considered from a wife’s perspective, but a huge one when taken from where they stood with each other.
He grinned. “Yes, we are getting only six days. Please be here with me. As soon as you can manage.”
“I’ll be there.” She assured him.
“I’ll be waiting.”