For the next two days, Manik remained immersed in work, going through the last minute details of the project before handing it over to the executive committee and the client, so that it could be taken ahead for final execution and completion.
He would leave home early in the morning and come back late at night. He would eat either at office or when he was back, he would prepare salads or soup. It wasn’t like Nandini couldn’t prepare those basics for him. She could do that, but she was not sure about his choices…
what he would want to eat and when…
It frustrated her a lot as she didn’t know what to keep handy at home so that when Manik came home tired and worn out, he didn’t have to struggle for food.
She would eat something that she loved to munch on while reading or watching TV, like pasta, sandwiches or poha. She slept when she felt sleepy, with no clue about when Manik would return home.
If he had a set routine, she would have loved to wait for him and eat dinner with him, but even he didn’t know how much time he was going to take in office. When he was immersed in work, he couldn’t sneak out.
Though, at the hindsight, his mind would often wander towards her all through the day… he would send her messages to ask about her and called her at lunchtime, but that wasn’t enough.
Both Manik and Nandini were very much aware that it had been only a week and two days since they got married and they were already struggling for some peaceful time with each other. And she was not even working, right now.
It was sure to get worse when she became busy too.
For these two days, she roamed about the city in the afternoons, applying to various hospitals, buying stuff for their home and some personal stuff that she needed for herself. The evenings were spent taking care of Dobby, watching a film on TV or reading a book.
Thank God that Dobby was with her. Just because of Dobby, the new home that she was now getting used to, didn’t appear haunted and eerie.
Nandini woke up to the sound of water running in the washroom. She opened the washroom door but couldn’t see much with her eyes drooping due to sleep still resting over them. Manik turned to her at the sound of the door opening and smiled warmly. Her hair was dishevelled, lying loosely over her shoulders, her face glowing with the early morning radiance after a relaxing sleep, her spaghetti camisole in white satin, matching white pyjamas, ruffled due to the night long tossing in bed was enough to make his heart melt all over again.
She looked so cute in this confused, sleepy, lost state that he could keep watching her struggling with coherence, for the rest of their lives.
He smirked, “Good morning!”
She left a huge breath and walked inside. Without stopping at any distance from him, she directly reached up to him, threw her arms around his waist to crash into him and buried her face over his shoulder. A soft muffled, “Good morning!” followed.
For a moment, he could speak nothing. What was that, even??!!
So easily… so candidly … so effortlessly, she had reached out to hug him??!!
He was blown away…
He closed the running tap and curled his arm around her. Before she came inside the washroom, he had been brushing his hair after a long bath and washing his hands. He had changed into formal office wear. Thank God for that. Because it was the final day of the project and he had to reach the office in an hour. He hated it that he really didn’t have time for any naughty activities right now…no matter how much he had felt like that…
He moved his fingers over her face to push away the curls of hair falling on her face and touched his forehead over her head. She turned her face towards him and smiled… a glowing, warm, adoring smile…
At this moment, he so wished he could tell her right away, how crazy he had been for her… how much he had missed her in last 3-4 days… and how insanely, he wanted to be with her… He wished he could tell her right away how strongly he was falling for her…but no… he didn’t want to do that in such a shoddy way… inside the washroom, when she was half asleep!
She was emotional and a die-hard romantic and she deserved a beautiful moment that she must have only dreamt about till now. Or maybe, that she had only read about in books and romanticized and fantasized about herself. She deserved to be pampered.
She had been hurt in love before… She deserved to be shown how special she was and each man who had hurt her before had been a big-time loser who didn’t know how to value and cherish this girl. She deserved respect and a confession that she would remember for a lifetime.
Even the thought about confessing his feelings to her and making it special for her elated him from the deepest corners of his heart. He had never felt like this before and this was going to be so different from all that he had ever done for his earlier gf …
This time, he would be doing it willingly.. with all of his heart in it…
She made him feel so different. She made him feel accepted and loved… She made him happy and content …just the way he was… without feeling the pressure to change or please her… Ever since she had come to Bangalore with him, he felt like coming back to this apartment, he had never considered his home before this. It had always been just a convenience to him. Nandini had turned this small two-bedroom space into ‘their’ home.
She was his home!!!
He pulled closer the arm curled around her and hugged her… strongly… She murmured in a sleepy, baby voice, almost over his shoulder, “When did you come back at night?”
He stroked her arm softly and replied, “I came at 1:00 am and I found you sleeping peacefully so I didn’t wake you up!”
“I didn’t notice when you came back… I was so deep in sleep…” She smiled, trying to open her eyes and finally succeeded when she could look at him.
“I know!” He kissed her forehead.
“Up and ready?? Going to office?”
“Working on Saturdays too?” She appeared a bit… just a bit… disappointed.
He pressed his lower lip under his upper lip for a moment before releasing them slowly. “Err… Usually, we don’t!! Saturdays, the office is closed. But today we are handing over a project to the client and the execution team, so few of us are going.”
Quickly, he added, “I will come early today… this project ends today…”
“I’ll wait for you!” Softly, she whispered.
“I have an entire day off after lunchtime and tomorrow is Sunday! We can plan something.”
“Manik… can I ask you something?” She detached from him and moved to stand facing him. Leaning by the washroom slab, she looked at his face with her chin up. She was alert and awake by now and looking as fresh as a newly bloomed lily.
“Yeah!” He was nervous. When girls asked if they could ask something, it wasn’t about weather or politics. It had to be about something the guy did and upset her. He went back to brushing the hair so that he could hide his awkwardness, in case it leads to one, “Yeah… go ahead!”
“Manik, do you always work like that?? I mean… no proper timings… coming home late… going early… always on phone, even when you are at home or maybe, at a market place…”
He pressed his lips once again. This time, in guilt and tried to come up with proper words to justify himself. “Err…”
She continued when she found him struggling with the explanation, “No, I don’t mind if you do… but I would like to know!! Honestly, even I will have erratic schedules, once I’m back to work. But if we are clear on that part, at least, we would know how and what to expect…We are married for one week and two days…Since last Thursday, it’s precisely the 10th day today… but I believe that even now, I know nothing about you… nothing!!! We haven’t spent enough time together… And these days, I get to see so less of you… I remember that you don’t like expectations but something as basic as co-ordination of lunch or dinner?? It’s just natural to ask, right?”
He sighed and placed his hands on his waist, listening to her.
When she started speaking, she was unstoppable. But what had always impressed him, was that even though she spoke more, she never said anything unreasonable. She made a valid point and he couldn’t dismiss it.
Manik took a step towards her. Just one step ahead and she was in his arms, with the slab behind her. He slipped his hands around her and nodded, “I know that I should have given more time to you and I don’t get to spend even an hour of the day with you. I’m sorry!”
“But wasn’t that the entire point behind our marriage? Not having to apologise? I don’t want us to keep apologising!”
“You’ve told me about that before!”
“Exactly! That was the deal, isn’t it?”
Of late, he had clearly realised that he was not really happy with this deal thing anymore. In this relationship, he had gone beyond the realms of the deal, the conditions and the circumstances…
He was very clear about the reality of their relationship – that they were married to each other, they were insanely attracted to each other and what he felt for her, he had never felt for anyone before… how he felt ‘with’ her… he had never felt with anyone before…. it was crazy… and he knew that…
He just hoped that she too felt the same for him…
The way she was attached to anyone and everyone around her, the animals and friends included, he was sure that even if she wasn’t emotionally invested in him right now, she will soon be doing so… he was so sure of it…
He had seen something deeper in those doe-shaped, pretty eyes, for him… the way she looked at him… the way she took care of him, trusted him, taken a step ahead in physical intimacy which she wanted to take with the one she loved… he knew that the day will come soon when she will feel as deeply for him as he did…
Was it love?
He didn’t know that… he didn’t have the courage to name it and jinx it…
But whatever, it was… it was beautiful! And it was precious!
Right now, it was time to do away with the conditions and the deal. He held her face in his palms and said, “We need to talk.”
“Talk?? And you??” She smirked, “I can count on fingers all the words you have spoken in last 3 days.
He grinned, scrunching his nose sheepishly, “I knowwww!!! I was just so occupied with work. But we really need to talk. I’ll be free from today… I mean, comparatively…”
“Talk about what? As far as I know, Manik Malhotra doesn’t talk nonsense like me… he talks with an agenda…when he has something in his mind…”
He couldn’t stop grinning more, “I can see, how bad an impression I have created for myself… we’ll see what we can do about it… and ….”
“And?” She moved her chin up and down, trying to read the look on his face.
“Maybe… rehash some of the conditions and the deal…”
Confused, she stared at him and raised her brows, “Do we need to do that?”
“Of course! It’s clearly not working that ways…the way we decided… So, why don’t we sit together and revise them??” He fixed his intense gaze on her face.
There was something about the way he looked at her. It made her blush. She teased him, “Ohh…I’m up for anything that makes you sit with me and talk…”
He chuckled, “You are impossible!”
She winced and finally gave up on the growing frustration building inside her. She whined and complained, “You have no idea Manik, how irritating it’s getting!!! I have never stayed alone for so long. The joint family never lets you be alone…some or the other cousin or aunt is always there…mom, dad and Ashu never left me alone… and then college kept me busy. Classes, lectures, ward postings, friends…something was always there, all my life… And now?? Suddenly all of it is gone. I feel sooooo lonely… I can’t keep calling people to tell them to talk to me. I can’t disturb them, just to entertain me… I’m left alone, with no one to talk to… I’ve never stayed sooooo quiet…it’s growing weird negative feelings inside me… I talk to Dobby… Can you imagine???”
Saddened with that, he frowned with a guilt-ridden look on his face, “I’m so sorry!!!! Soooooo sorry!!! I knew that you love to have people around you… you are not a loner… and you love to talk. How could I be so irresponsible?? You have no one here… I’m such an idiot!!”
“Nooooo!! Please don’t blame yourself. I’m not blaming you!”
“Still, it’s my fault Nandu…it’s the initial days in a new city… once you get settled and have your own work and friends, I know you’ll be adjusted… but these first few days are hard…I should have taken extra care…” He lowered his face in regret.
She hated it that he was blaming himself for that. She held his face in her hands and lifted it, “No…no… listen… I love people and I love to talk… but I don’t ‘need’ other people to stay happy. I have been managing well. I can keep myself busy and occupied. For now, I don’t ‘need’ others…”
“Listen to me… I was prepared for it, when I came to a new city. It’s just that, once your work is over, maybe, in the evenings… I wish to be spend some time with you… share the day’s happenings… talk about random stuff… that’s all…”
He pressed his lips and held her shoulders, warmly and assuringly. “I wish the same! And from now, I’ll take care about it.”
The look on his face made her worried and apprehensive. It was his presentation and project completion day and she had to say all this. With a guilty frown, she asked, “Am I complaining?? I didn’t want to … I know, it’s difficult for you too…it’s work… I understand… just that these little frustrations keep piling up…”
“It’s good that you spoke about it! It was my duty to be more understanding. You’ve come here with me… You are my responsibility here!”
“Come on…” She tried to dismiss it, “I didn’t mean to pressurize you to talk to me…”
In all seriousness, he spoke in a flow of words, “But I really… really understand! You know, I always finish these projects before time…but the leaves I had to take and stay away from the office for our marriage…”
“Took away 4 precious days of your life?” She completed and giggled teasing him. She just knew how to change the mood in one second.
Mortified, he rolled his eyes and sheepishly walked away. “Bad choice of words… I know!!”
“Aww… the marriage wasted your time and delayed the project??!!” She teased him more and followed him out of the washroom, into the bedroom where he was now standing before the mirror and tying the navy blue tie with white stripes.
“Shut up!” He was embarrassed.
“Malhotra! You are cute!”
He shrugged, “The scores are even, now. You told me not to waste your time by meeting you when we hadn’t even met and talked only on phone.”
She remembered that and it was indeed embarrassing. It was interesting that he remembered it too. Why?? She wondered.
She grinned. “Okay, scores are even. Both of us wasted time.”
He rolled his eyes and said, “But let’s not waste it anymore. I’ll hopefully be free after lunchtime or by early evening… 4 or so… let’s go out after that?! Movie and dinner??”
Was it the way he said that?? In a husky, strong, intoxicating voice?? Or was it the prospect of going out with him?? She didn’t know what it was, but his question gave her goosebumps. To say that she was thrilled, was an understatement.
And it wasn’t even something specifically romantic!! It was just a simple question asking her if she would like to go to a movie and dinner with him…
Married for 10 days and met almost a month ago… but she clearly remembered the first time, his proximity had given her goosebumps. And it continued even now. She wasn’t getting used to it, anytime soon. He was such an expert at making her feel those little hair rising on her forearms, back and nape of the neck making her shiver… with that intense look in his eyes, with that addictive smile that made her smile too and with that voice which poured molten honey in her ears, letting it drip deeper drop by drop, inside her…
Time spent with him was so enthralling that she could never think of refusing any such offer.
“Okay!” She grinned and quickly agreed, with a twinkle in her eyes. She had been leaning with her back tucked to the wall near the dressing table mirror.
“I’ll give you a call and send the driver with the car…” he turned around, wearing the blazer and walked up to her. The next moment, he held her face and gave a feather soft peck on her forehead.
“Hmm!” She smiled and nodded.
Manik left for office and Nandini didn’t have to go anywhere. She cuddled Dobby, filled his bowl with dog food and milk and went back to sleep again.
When she was in Mumbai, studying and working in the hospital, the sleep felt like a luxury. It was that rare, elusive friend that she never wanted to bargain for anything in the world for she never got enough of it. Now that she had all the time in the world, she didn’t even like to sleep anymore.
She was craving to go back to work. She missed the hospital. She missed the hectic routine and the patients. She missed Operation Theatre and the labour room.
Yes, she missed all of that. She wanted to be busy again. Just like Manik.
She didn’t want to stay alone and keep missing him, all through the day. She tossed and turned in the bed, with her eyes closed, she pulled Manik’s side of the pillow to hug it close to her and buried her face in it.
‘Silly boy! I don’t need anyone else… I need you!’