This is a really, really long update - of the size of 2 updates. Happy Reading!! ....................................... Three days! It was simply three days that he had asked for them to spend together without whining and complaining about being separated. She didn’t even think twice before she agreed. She would have done anything for him. And it was just some time that he had aske...
“Those three lines on your forehead, that fake smile, that twitch of your lip and this tub of ice-cream in the morning, instead of coffee – all this is not you, Nandu. These are the traits of that disturbed side of Nandini who sometimes takes over my girl!”
Nandini didn’t know what to say to this. The way he had shown concern for her, the way he was quick to guess that something was disturbing her, how he observed her so keenly that he noticed every subtle change in her behaviour and how he insisted that she should share her problems with him – it was enough to vigorously stir every deep-seated emotion inside her.
‘Who needed detailed essays and declarations of love when a few sentences and gestures spoke in detail about his love and care?’
She was dumbfounded for a long moment. She stared at him and nodded frantically to refuse. But he was too sure about her to believe her refusals. He held her hand, “Tell me, Nandu! What’s troubling you?”
She stopped eating the ice cream and cleared her throat. Then, in a low, unsure voice, she said, “Manik, I want to share something with you… but I’m not sure how you will take it…”
“Tell me!” He was serious by now. Prepared to listen to her.
She spoke in a broken voice, with eyes fixed on him, “I received a call from the management and while they are considering my complaint and doctor Kavita’s complaint too, they plan to investigate the conduct of HOD before they take decisions accordingly. Meanwhile, they have an interesting, really promising opening in Mumbai. They asked if I would like to join there.”
It was a partial lie… It was not a complete lie.
There WAS an opening in Mumbai and she knew about it. She would get it if she wanted because she was well versed with Marathi and had lived in Mumbai all her life. Her schooling and medical college were from there. It was also true that she had received a call from Head Office saying that her matter was sub judicial, under consideration. But it was a lie that she was offered the job. The truth was that neither she had tried nor they offered it to her.
He listened to her patiently and after she had finished, he asked, “What did you say?”
She replied with an indecisive tone, “I didn’t reply to them. I’m not sure. You tell me… what should I do?”
He pressed his lips, before releasing it slowly and after giving it a deep thought, he said, “You know my stand. Previously, when it was about Chennai, I asked you to do what was good for you or what you wanted to do. It stays the same even now. Do what you want to do the most.”
“What we want may not be the right thing to do.”
“As long as it makes you happy, it is right!”
“Happiness is so over-rated. Sometimes, things make us sad but they give us more fruitful, meaningful purpose in life. What exactly is happiness – profession and career?… or family? And is it so easy to decide?”
He listened to her patiently, before resting his cheek and jaw over his folded hand with elbow settled on the table. And said, “Of course, not! There are a lot of parameters to think about.”
“It’s like – I will be trained and get more experience… will be away from this language barrier too as I have always lived and studied in Mumbai. Being close to ma, papa is another perk. I’ve been missing them. So many positives… but…”
“But?” He asked, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb.
She spoke carefully, studying his face, “I don’t want to go away from you. Now, you tell me, what to do.”
She had lied because there was no other way to make him talk about this issue. They had talked before and every time, whenever it was about him, he would dismiss it. She knew that he would never leave her here, alone.
He was quiet for a moment, thinking about it. Since she had asked about her own career, it was important to give it a serious thought.
Of course, he would have never liked Nandini going away to work in Mumbai. But somehow, it didn’t appear as difficult as it was when she was leaving him for a break from their relationship.
It felt easier this time.
If she was happy and wanted to take a strong step to further her career, he was happy for her.
He smiled, “It’s not a permanent thing, I suppose… For how long you intend to go there?”
Her heart tore apart at that. When he asked about the duration that they would have to stay away, the gravity of separation started dawning on her. She could feel her heart sinking and lips getting dried at even the thought of living away from Manik for a long period of time.
She shrugged, “I’m not sure… maybe, a year… or two years!”
“We can manage for a year or two… can’t we?” He asked on a low note.
She smiled faintly, and nodded, “Yes! We can manage. And we should!! Dreams are precious, Manik. If you let go of them, they haunt you for your entire life that you could have achieved them but you didn’t.”
Manik became serious at this. He lowered his eyes and thought about it for a moment. And then he held her other hand too. Strongly keeping both her hands in his grip, he said, “I agree.”
Nandini was finally relieved when he said that. Getting him to agree with her would have been difficult if she talked about ‘his’ dreams, ‘his’ ambitions and ‘his’ future goals. When she talked about herself, Manik was unknowingly left in a space where he would be forced to think about her happiness and indirectly, it would make him think what he would want from his career in the next two years.
Nandini knew that it was going to be extremely tough for both of them. They had barely started their journey together. They were now getting used to each other and had gone through their first major fight and patch up. They were on their path to understand each other better, grow closer, know their positives and negatives, lows and highs…
They needed to spend time with each other to know the intricate details about each other more, to listen to each other and be there through thick and thin…
It was going to be difficult to live separately at this stage. But she couldn’t see Manik giving up on his dreams. Not for her. They had both done that once. Right after their marriage. She let go of the Chennai option to be with him. But it didn’t hurt because she got an equally good job here. He gave up all the options of going abroad because she couldn’t accompany him there and he said that it didn’t matter much as he was at a prime position in this company.
But she was still not sure if Manik wanted to go to Los Angeles and was leaving the opportunity because of her? Or his priorities had really changed? Was he leaving it because he was happy here? Or was he sacrificing his ambitions?
If the latter was true, it was going to pinch him for his entire life and he will never be able to completely forget that he gave up on his dream. And if it was true, she would never be able to live in peace.
She wanted to give him one chance to realise his dreams and achieve them. He deserved that.
A peaceful smile spread on her lips when Manik agreed with her. But her eyes were still sad. A heavy burden was growing on her chest, making her overwhelmed with emotions. Manik felt the same. But he was happy that she was thinking about her career and training before him. She had every right to go ahead and do what she had always wanted to do. Even the thought gave him deep satisfaction and peace.
When he saw her on the verge of tears, he spoke in a soothing, soft voice, “Don’t be sad. Two years is a very small part of the next 70 years that we are going to live together.”
That sentence worked in the opposite way and her tears rolled down.
He smiled, “Come on. It’s going to be a breeze. Trust me!”
She got up from her chair and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. He held her and made her sit on his lap. He supported her back, holding her close, as she leaned over his shoulder and buried her face in it. He stroked her arm.
“Nandu, promise me one thing.”
“What?” She whispered without raising her face, with her forehead resting on his shoulder, and arms curled around his neck.
“Please don’t feel guilty at any point in time. And please don’t sacrifice your life, goals, desires for anything. Decide what is best for you. If you are happy, then I will be happy too.”
She raised her face and looked at him, “Can I ask the same to be applied to both of us?”
He nodded and agreed, “Of course! I will decide what is best for me and I will let you know. I will not sacrifice anything, my life, my career, my goals or desires. I will stay happy… for you!”
She smiled warmly, not sure why… or how… but he had made her smile. Her hand on his head pulled his face down and she stretched her neck to reach his level. Surprising him, she kissed him. He opened his mouth and deepened the kiss.
Before this, none of them had ever known how it felt to be deeply sad inside and still feel peaceful and happy for someone else.
Love taught them this, as well!
The next day, Nandini made him sit comfortably in the living room during the office timings for the video conference he had with his office guys. She gave him all the things he needed. Before leaving, she held his face in her palms and gave a soft peck on his forehead. “All the best!”
He smiled lightly. He would have loved to be in the office at this time. But this arrangement wasn’t bad as well. He had Nandini with him, at home. He opened his laptop at the stipulated time and she waited in the bedroom, reading a book. After about two hours, he called her on her phone.
“The project was unanimously passed and applauded!” Manik informed Nandini after he closed the Skype conference with the Board of Directors at the office. The project was presented by Cabir and was praised widely. The cross-questions were dealt with by Manik and he replied them aptly over Skype and finally, everyone was satisfied and happy. They congratulated Manik and Cabir, who had literally presented a flawless project.
“Wowww!!! Wow…woww!” Nandini rushed to the living room and hugged him, “I always knew it…It had to be a success. You are the best!”
Manik was surprised, and thrilled at the same time, at her confidence in him. He admitted, “Well, I was nervous!”
“I was not! I knew that you would nail it!”
He sighed, for he was at a loss of words. She was so happy and so proud of him. In such a less time, Nandini had become a rock by his side. She stood beside him like a support everyone craves to have. She was strong… determined… and confident. Manik couldn’t have asked for anything else.
The next step was the LA project. Cabir insisted that Manik should do it for him. More than Manik, Cabir would be benefitted from this project. Manik was already CEO but Cabir had just started making a mark. He wanted to do more work with Manik. The LA expansion project was a prestigious and important feat to achieve.
Manik wasn’t really keen initially but after giving it a thought, he agreed and started working on it. Now that Nandini was going away to Mumbai after 3 weeks, he was free to devote his time to his work.
He hated this desperate feeling creeping inside him whenever he thought about having to live without Nandu by him but he had no option left. Staying busy at work was the best way to keep your mind away from negative, depressive, painful thoughts.
He was sitting with Cabir, drawing a plan on the paper when Nandini walked inside the home, carrying bags with some dairy products and vegetables. Whenever she had work, she would leave Manik with Cabir while they worked and went for basic household shopping. Right before she entered the apartment, she heard Manik talking to Cabir…
“Listen Cabir…. do me a favour!”
“Please don’t tell Nandini about it.” Manik had whispered.
Cabir rolled his eyes and said, “I know, you think that I tell her everything…but rest assured that I won’t tell her anything, this time… trust me!”
Nandini pushed through the main door to enter the living room, deliberately making a sound so that they stopped talking. She knew that Manik didn’t want her to feel sad or upset. And she wanted him to stay relieved on her part. She didn’t want him to stop any of his plans just because he saw her sad or upset. It was good to not know anything.
So, she simply pretended that she had heard nothing.
They had 3 more weeks to go… Manik’s plaster cast was supposed to be removed in 3 weeks. He would be able to walk on his own, after that. His project was slated to be getting a go-ahead at nearly the same time and then they would have to set up an office at Los Angeles and work harder for the new expansion.
A lot had to be done… and they had three weeks together…
After this, the days continued to be the same – Nandini helped Manik through his routine work, cooked for him, did little things for him, they played board games, watched movies and soccer matches and talked – but there was a minor difference this time – they were more receptive and less argumentative about everything.
They knew that they were together only for a few weeks and none of them wanted to waste any time in useless discussions, arguments, or fights. They would listen to each other more… try to make the best use of the time by holding on to each moment, whatever they did… and tried to stay around each other as much as possible… they specifically refrained from talking about the separation.
Why talk about something that was so painful? It was better to focus on the present.
When Nandini helped Manik with his daily routine in the washroom, they were reminded of several funny and romantic moments spent in the washroom. He took the towel from her and quietly wiped his face, throwing a side glance at her. Her eyes were drowning in a pool of misery though she had a soft smile on her face.
When she looked at him, she realised that he was as distraught as her. His smile was toughened and dull. Yet, he was keeping a brave face for her. She moved ahead and slowly slipped in his arms, tucking herself to him. Burying her face in his chest, she whispered, “I love you!”
“Love you too. Don’t be sad.”
“I’ll miss you!”
He opened his mouth to relieve her but couldn’t. The fact was that he was going to miss her more than he had ever imagined. He was so used to her now that even a thought of living away from her was difficult to bear. He tightened his hold around her and held her strongly. She nearly disappeared in his embrace, losing herself in his broad chest and long arms. They were her haven, her home.
“We’ll work out a way so that we miss each other less… we’ll talk every day… we’ll send messages… and we’ll write mails…” He tried to relieve her, not realising that she became more miserable with that. But she had to keep a brave face too.
So, she smiled and raised her face to look at him, “Wow, Mr. Malhotra!! I’m impressed. You’ll write?”
He chuckled, “Okay… I’ll learn to write. No need to put me down for that.”
She smirked, “Forget it. I’ll write on your behalf too!”
No matter how much they smiled, laughed and teased each other, deep down both knew that the time was passing by fast and the clock was ticking away…In no time, 3 weeks will be over and they will be going to their respective destinations.
The LA project was being planned faster as it was just the replica of the previous project. The inventory, the setup, the designs were supposed to follow a predesigned pattern. The needed research was done by both Manik and Cabir. They were experts and knew how it was supposed to go. They talked to providers at the consumers’ end and worked upon market research. They even employed a company to provide them with insights about the LA market and a rough sketch of the plan was ready in 3 weeks.
3 weeks passed in a jiffy…
Manik was watching a new action web series on Netflix. Nandini never liked ‘action’ as a genre, so she was reading a book, sitting beside Manik while he was engrossed in the series, lying on the bed, reclining on the cushions behind him.
Slowly, he shifted towards her and settled his head in her lap. She was pleasantly surprised. Lovingly, she ran her hand on his forehead and in his hair.
“The plaster cast will be removed tomorrow.” He said.
“Hmm!” She pressed her lips as she was reminded of the last few days that they were together. Her heart was beating hard. Her hand remained in his hair, stroking them softly while her eyes were on the book, not reading this time.
“You know, Nandu…when I was hurt and got this cast on my ankle, it frustrated me and I was really angry and upset. I hated to be dependent and stuck on the bed. But after so many weeks, it’s weird and embarrassing to accept that I have started kinda liking it.”
She kept the book away and was now listening to him patiently. He was looking at her in all earnestness.
She said, “It happens. Accidents and bedrest brings different changes in people. Some people become impatient and aggressive. They can’t wait to get out of this cast and walk again. Some became calmer and want to take it easier than before.”
“I was the first kind, initially. But the second type, now! I guess… YOU made the difference. You are the calming factor of my life.”
She smiled, “Don’t give me the credit of your laziness.”
He sniggered, “Don’t crack jokes. I’m serious.”
“Okay, sorry! Go on…”
“I love sitting here… in this room…with you! You taking care of me like a baby… and me throwing all the tantrums…chatting, spending time together… we’ve been closer than ever in the last few days… it feels odd now that I will be able to walk tomorrow. No more binding to this bed. No more dependence on you. We will go in different directions and we won’t be together anymore.”
She became serious and didn’t speak anything in reply. Not because she was short of words. It was because her throat was choked and she couldn’t speak.
“How’s your project going?” She asked to divert attention.
“Perfect! We hope to finish it by tomorrow and present it in the office in 2 days. I’m glad, this time, I will be there when we present it.”
Her face was blank. As the day of his presentation was nearing, her heart was sinking more. She asked, “After that, when do they usually set up the office?”
He twisted his lips and shrugged, “The background work starts immediately!”
“So? Coming week?”
“Yeah. Possibly by Wednesday.”
“Visa and travel documents?”
“That’s the company’s headache… not our tension.” He dismissed it casually and asked, “When do you have to join Mumbai?”
She pressed her lips, looking at nothing in particular and vaguely said, “Next week. Wednesday.”
He could feel his heart sinking. But he gulped hard, and said in a faint voice, “That means, Tuesday is the last night that we will be together.”
“Hmm!” Her hand in his hair stopped moving.
“Can you do me a favour, Nandu?”
“Anything for you, Manik.”
“Can we stop being sad and stop cribbing about it? Can we make these 3 days the best days of our lives?”