“Awww… how sad, Manik Malhotra! You could neither be BRAVE, nor LUCKY! Nahi??”
He didn’t know why but he found it adorable. Instead of pacifying her again, he laughed out loud, “On the contrary, I had entered the lioness’ den braced with a list of conditions for marriage. And she agreed!! Now, that’s what I call heights of bravery!!”
She squeezed her eyes, slightly, accusing him, “How happy you looked…when you found that Cabir had managed to escape the murk … that he actually ran away from it!”
“Nandiniiii… Normal people become happy for their friends… even if they couldn’t save themselves from the tsunami…” He went on teasing her.
She smiled slightly and raised her chin to ask in a soft, teasing voice, “So, why are you going on a holiday with this tsunami?”
He leaned slightly lower, and spoke in husky reply, barely a whisper, “To see if there is a scope to drown more!”
If there was a dime for every time she blushed at his teases, she would have bought a store of diamonds by now just at the way he made her blush every time he teased her. She looked at him in a subtle chide and walked away towards Mukti and Alya. Cabir came to Manik and they walked away too to mingle with other men in the crowd.
They stayed there for an hour more, having food with their friends, talking to strangers, listening to office staff and some of the neutral lot who were not bothered or aware of the politics going on.
For the entire time, Manik’s eyes would drift towards Nandini, every now and then. And for the same duration, she would seek him, with her eyes tearing through the crowd of people and resting on him. It was weirdly and deeply satisfying to be within each others’s line of vision. The look they had for each other was far from any worldly definition.
She held a look of unspoken ownership over another set of eyes, which belonged to someone who was her own, in a crowd of strangers. He held a look that confirmed to her that he was there for her… no matter happened what… and she need not worry!!
She sighed. She had no idea how she was going to live without him for a few months till he got a transfer to Chennai.
As far as she could remember, she was sure that she had an entire beautiful life, a well-defined identity, a set of friends, loving relatives, family, a carved out profession, clear passions… plans for future and clearly defined goals and ambitions, hardly 2 weeks back!!
She had been happy, even before… before he happened…
So, exactly how and when did he enter her life and captured it, claiming his right over everything she had called ‘private’… she had no clue… Smearing her life with the colours he fancied, he had owned her decisions and actions to an extent that now she felt tied and tangled with him… How was she going to move ahead without these small teases and everyday bickerings… laughter and annoyance… care and compassion…
She had loved the prospects of this new job and it was almost a blessing from God, otherwise she would have never agreed. But now, it was going to be long, tiring wait, before Manik joined her in Chennai.
His eyes were on her and when he saw that she was looking at him and was smiling with a goofy look on her face, he smirked and raised his brows, as if to ask what happened to her. She nodded, as if to say – nothing. He winked. She pressed her lips and turned away, hiding the dash of strawberry flush seeping on her cheeks.
It was time to leave. Manik and Nandini went together to thank Gautham Sir and Sharmila Ma’am. Sharmila hugged her spontaneously and said, “I loved you so much. You are such a doll. Why don’t you join our ladies’ group that meets once a month? It will be fun!”
Nandini thanked her, “I’m sure it must be fun. I really hope I could but I’ll be joining my job in Chennai next month, so I really can’t. Though, I would love to!”
Sharmila left a helpless, sad sigh, “Oh dear! That’s unfortunate. Just today only, Gautham told me that Manik had applied for a transfer to Chennai, but we couldn’t do that. We plan to close down Chennai office, early next year. It’s going to be so tough for both of you!”
Nandini was so shocked that she couldn’t speak for a moment. As if someone had just sucked her soul out of her body. It was sudden. It was too abrupt. She gulped her saliva struggling with it and tried to fake a subtle smile, lowering her lids to fight the tear that had just formed there.
Manik sensed the situation. He shook hands with Gautham and thanked Sharmila, “Thank you Sir, Ma’am … for everything… it was a kind gesture and a privilege for us tojoin you!”
More pleasantries were exchanged and they finally left the venue, not taking care if Cabir, Dhruv, Alya or Mukti were coming or not…
Manik tried to talk to her. She didn’t respond to him, initially. When he tried to stop her and held her arm to talk to her again, using soft, considerate words, “Nandini…just listen to me…” She didn’t say anything. She simply looked away, terribly pained at what she had just found out.
He opened the door of the car to sit inside, with his mind frantically searching for ways to make her talk. She sat at the passenger side seat beside him.
“Manik…please…let’s go home!”
“Please talk to me!”
She turned her face away, towards the window to look outside. How could she talk? Her throat was choked, her tears were lying at the brim of her eyelids, her lips trembled and her heart wanted to scream it out. At best, any effort at talking would lead to an outburst laden with tears and she didn’t want that. He won’t like it.
He drove quietly. They took the elevator to their apartment and rode in silence. She – looking down at the floor of the elevator. He – looking at her. All the while.
Thinking how to bring the conversation between them to it’s original easy track…Trying to read her, searching for ways to let her know that he was there to fight her demons with her… tell her that she was not going to be alone in Chennai. He won’t let her be alone.
They entered the apartment and she marched ahead, taking fast but quiet steps. Dobby was sleeping due to effect of medicines given at night time and she didn’t want to disturb him. She headed towards the bedroom. At this moment, all she wanted was to enter the washroom, latch the door, cry her heart out and wash her face. Just this!
But the plans didn’t go well, as they were planned. Not with this couple.
He followed her inside the bedroom right after her, held her elbow, and stopped her before she could move further, “Nandu… please wait…”
She stopped but didn’t face him. He was standing right behind her, facing her back and her face was towards the washroom, with her elbow in his hand. Softly, she whispered, “Please, let me go!”
“No!” This one word was pretty firm. Strong. Authoritative.
She was not going to fight this. She needed him. She wanted him to hold her the way he did. When she didn’t resist anymore, he tugged at her elbow and turned her to face him. With her face and eyelids lowered, she turned towards him and bit her lower lip under her teeth.
Slowly, he made her sit at edge of the bed and knelt down on the floor, right before her. His tall stature and her slender, small frame matched their heights even when they sat before each other.
She kept looking down in her lap, fighting her own disappointment. Dreading a life without Manik, she didn’t know for how long. There was no hope, for now. She dared not look at him. He held her hands, firmly grasping them and exerted a strong pressure between his hands to warmly squeeze her. She raised her eyelids and looked at him. Her eloquent eyes were reddened with congestion and glistening due to moisture.
He was so deeply stirred that he feared dropping a tear himself. Her face, her eyes and her lips were enough to show how deeply disturbed she was. She didn’t need to spell it out in words…all that she felt, to be adorned in the shallowness of verbal capability. Nothing could shake him as deeply as her silence and her tearful eyes. She continued to look at him with questions, complaints and despair. He continued to stay strong and confident.
Finally, he spoke, in a voice dripping honey and a tone akin to velvet, “You can cry! I can handle you!”
He always said that he couldn’t handle when someone, especially a girl cried before him. Today, he had accepted it that he could let her cry now. He was there to hold her. He was not scared to face his emotions today.
Her heart kept beating hard. One by one, tears dropped on her cheeks as she shivered and stammered in a barely audible whisper, “Why?? Why didn’t you tell me?”
He left her hands and held her cheeks instead, wiping her tears with his thumbs on both her cheeks, and replied calmly, “I came to know about it, just this morning. When I inquired about the transfer process, they said that they were closing down the branch in Chennai and wanted to focus on expansion in other zones. I didn’t want to spoil your mood for the evening. I would have told you in some time. But, I had no idea that this discussion would come up there and you will get to know it like this.”
“But Manik… just before going, you promised me that you will follow me?”
“I’ll stick to that promise. I’ll resign from my job and find another one in Chennai. You, don’t worry, okay??! Anyway, I don’t like it here anymore!”
She winced and spoke, panic-ridden, “No…. no….no… nooooo!! You can’t resign like that! You have to stay back and prove that you are innocent. I won’t let you leave at the heights of controversies… Manik, I want you to stand against everyone who is opposing you and prove your innocence. I want you to fight for your dignity and self-respect. I will leave the Chennai offer and be with you, here. I’ll get some job in Bangalore!”
“No… this is an amazing offer!” He wiped her tears and lowered his hands from her jawline and neck down to her shoulders.
“I’ll get another one… trust me!” Her husky whisper broke, as she was choking on words, but she kept the confidence level high.
“No…Nandu… just the way, you want me to fight with the system for my integrity and dignity… I don’t want you to compromise on your dreams and career. You need to go ahead and take up the best that is offered to you.” He spoke on a hardened lump in his throat.
Ever since, he had heard about this offer, he had been excited and happy for her, though deeply disturbed about having to live in this house without her… it would be like, going back to treating it like a hotel, and not their home… with nothing to look forward to, at the end of the day… no one to nag him about his messy habits… no one teasing him about everything he ate and the way he used the washroom… no one to fight with him… and no one whom he could tease endlessly, till she blushed hard and hid her face…
He knew it was going to be terrible and extremely difficult. It had been okay two weeks back, when he was living alone, swearing that he will never get married… not in near future.
At that time, he never knew how it would be to live with her… now after living with her, he was kinda getting used to her… her presence in the home… around him… There was no doubt that he was going to miss her… pretty badly … but he couldn’t be selfish and ask her to stay with him, just because it felt good to be together…
“Come on, Manik!” Nandini didn’t even consider staying away from him, after this realization that it was going to be a long battle for him. “In this fight, I want to stay near you.”
“No! I’ll manage. You promise me, that you will take up this offer! We need this time!”
“What are you saying??!”
“Do you remember that we agreed on one thing before we got married that we don’t know each other well?? That we are so different… we will never get along well as we haven’t given time to each other… Now, is the time… we got it the hard way! But we have all the time, now… Make the most of it!! This time is needed to stay apart from each other for some time, focus on our goals and ambitions, make a career and evaluate what we feel … really, deeply feel for each other… whether we miss each other or these feelings get diluted with time and distance… the purity and truth of a relationship can only be tested in tough times…during adversity or distance….”
She couldn’t stop her tears, “Manik, I don’t want to live like that…”
“And can’t let you live the way you are going to become…”
“What does that mean?”
“Didn’t I tell you that we are changing? It’s not always for good. I’m seeing so many changes in you. Every day, you seem to lose some part of the bubbly, chirpy, naughty girl that met me in Mumbai. Every day, you become more understanding and mature and thus lose your happy. crazy self…more silent like me… We need this time to get back in touch with ourselves. Everything happened in such a hurry for us. Our marriage didn’t give us time to think… to get adjusted…”
“I don’t understand…I can be myself here… as well…I’ll try…”
“See… We need to know each other more. To accept someone completely, we need to know more about ourselves…Let’s not give up on this chance… no one is happy compromising on his dreams and ambitions… Let’s not turn on the blame game into who did what for whom… let it not be forceful, but by complete acceptance and choice… let’s not compromise on our careers and vent the frustrations on each other… let’s not make it a bitter relationship. “
She wished she didn’t understand and agree with what he was saying. She winced, “Do you think we will know more about each other by staying away? We need to stay together to know each other…”
He lowered his lips on her forehead and gave her a peck on the center of her forehead. “To know each other, we are going on this ten-day vacation. I’m sure that this vacation will bring us closer and then… I promise… we will stay just a few months away from each other. Just a few months… Trust me.”
She sighed. “Such an irony! Normal people go on a honeymoon and live together, forever after that. We are going on a honeymoon with a promise to stay apart after that.”
“With a promise to make it stronger every day.”
“Will it go like we think?? Honestly, in our lives, nothing goes as we plan it. Will this work?” She sighed and whispered.
“We’ll have to make sure that it works! For that will test the real strength of this relationship.”
She dropped few more tears, when he lowered his lips over hers and claimed them for a long, compelling, passionate kiss. Breaking it momentarily, he sighed.
She whispered, “I’m scared!”
“Don’t be scared, sweetheart. I’m with you at every step. Problems will come and go, but we will neither be shaken, nor broken!”