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Long update 🙂
Nandini worked in the hospital till 8 pm. Despite it being her off day, she was called and given extra work. But for the first time, she was not complaining. She was glad that she could get this time away from home, her in-laws and Manik.
For the entire duration, she didn’t let her mind wander towards them or else she would have cried. Instead, her sole focus was to stabilize the emergency patients and healing ones.
After being free at night, she went directly to the Bangalore Hospital to track medical response in Latika’s case. She was out of danger but still unconscious. She talked to the concerned doctor on duty and met Manoj, who was staying there at night.
“Manik just left. He didn’t want to go but I sent him. He is at home with Trisha and Gayu.”
Nandini nodded, took his blessings, threw a glance at Latika and felt sorry for her, before leaving the hospital.
It was almost 11 pm by the time she reached home. She didn’t have her set of keys. So she pressed the bell.
Manik opened the door and stepped aside. Nandini entered without saying anything and went directly inside the kitchen to get water for her.
No smile. No greetings. No hug.
On normal days, she would grin at the sight of him and step forward to hug him as soon as she returned home. Today, she was more like a stranger.
She brought a water bottle from the refrigerator and dumped her handbag on the dining table before unscrewing the cap,looking at something on the table…basically on nothing… for she was so lost that she didn’t know what she was staring at. Manik slowly followed her inside after locking the door.
He didn’t know how to begin talking to Nandini. But he had to. She was broken and he was responsible for that and he was even aware of that. He couldn’t allow her to drift into a space where it became difficult to communicate with her. Communication had been the key to their relationship till now. They couldn’t afford to lose that connection.
He cleared his throat to distract her. Her eyes drifted towards him.
He said, “Trisha and Gaurvi had food and they are sleeping right now. Papa insisted that I should bring them back from the hospital.”
She almost murmured, “Hmm…”
“You must be tired too. Food is in the kitchen.”
She didn’t reply to that and drank water from the bottle. He continued, “Mom is fine but still unconscious. Papa wanted to stay with her. So, I came back.”
Nandini replied in a low, soft voice, “I talked to the doctor. Everything is fine, it seems. They will keep her n observation for 48 hours and if all is well, they will discharge after 2 days…”
Before he could say anything, she added on a choked throat, “I’ll leave after 2 days.” Her words were like sharp-pointed stabs through his chest. Painful. Tearing. Suffocating. Constricting him so that he couldn’t breathe anymore, but before he could speak, she walked away without even looking at him.
Manik was left near the dining table, shattered and lost, while Nandini went inside the bedroom, took out a change of clothes and occupied the washroom for the next 20 minutes. She had to shower and brush and change and more than anything she had to cry, hiding her face in her palms, masked behind the sound of gushing water from the shower.
What Manik had said was neither casual nor easy to get over. She didn’t know if she would ever get over this. But crying her heart out was a release… and a relief… after all the hardwork of maintaining a straight face dealing with one responsibility after the other, with the family, with unknown patients at the hospital, dealing with attendants, she didn’t get time to cry and grieve her loss.
Manik went inside the bedroom and sat on the bed, waiting for Nandini. He knew that she was devastated. She needed him but he didn’t know how to hold her, support her and ask her to cry over his shoulder – he had burnt that bridge himself.
After nearly twenty minutes, Nandini stepped out, brushing her hair to dry them with a towel, looking like a dove in a white sleeveless cotton button-down top and light grey ankle-length skirt. She wiped her hair dry and without looking at Manik, she went out of the bedroom, leaving him there.
She went to the living room, sat on the floor and cuddled Dobby who had been waiting for her attention since morning. She noticed that Manik had fed him. So, she cleaned him, cleaned the area where he slept and finally, she went to the couch to sit – she folded her legs up, buried her chin on her folded knees and hugged the legs to sit for a long time in this comfortable posture, thinking about how suddenly their lives had changed during the course of one day and how she had felt as if someone pulled the floor under her feet to push her down from the seventh sky, straight on the ground.
It hurt. Very much.
She didn’t know how long she sat there but the sound of the cuckoo clock in the living room buzzed for one bell… that means it was 1:00 am.
After a few minutes, Manik came out of the bedroom and came inside the living room. He had been waiting for her inside the bedroom. And when she didn’t come back, he decided to check on her.
He walked out and when he saw her quiet and motionless, he leaned by the living room wall and observed her quietly. Then he said in a low voice, “Nandini…”
She didn’t move much. In the same posture, face rested on the folded knees and arms hugging the upfolded legs, she just turned her face to look at him, with blank and distant eyes.
He was not his usual self. His ruffled hair, his one-day-old stubble and dried lips added to the gloom of his puffy tired eyes. He had dropped tears too. His face looked drained. It didn’t appear that he had eaten anything. He looked tired, broken, dejected and guilty.
To top it, he was the big brother and older child in this family. Even after so much had happened, he must be living his duties of the good child, taking care of his family at the hospital and older brother, bringing back and feeding his little sisters and Dobby. He looked as if he didn’t have the release that she had a moment ago in the washroom. Her heart tore at that. She pressed her lips as she looked at him with moist eyes.
He felt like his throat had dried and he was tongue-tied. He struggled and then he managed to speak, “Nandu… I’m feeling so nervous and lost…”
She closed her eyes once, hoping that her tears will stop at that, but they didn’t. She opened them again and straightened herself, lifting her head up. In a warm, reassuring tone, she whispered, “You can talk to me!”
He sighed in relief. She used the back of her hand to wipe her tears and he sat beside her on the couch, lifting his feet up too. Holding his legs with his arms around them and feet on the couch, he let a few moments pass to gather his thoughts in one place. He didn’t know what to say, what to share and how to let it out. He couldn’t believe it that she had allowed him to talk to her and was now sitting patiently beside him, listening to him.
He leaned backward, to tuck his back at the wall behind him, as he sighed deeply, “I didn’t know whom to talk to… I’m feeling so lost… I’ve never felt like this before…”
“Felt like?” She asked in a low, soft voice.
He shrugged, looking at the wall at a distance, the window and the dream catcher, and said, “Like, I’ve lost everything in one day…I’ve always seen life as success and failure…projects and deadlines… and this one incident shook me… life is much beyond that shallowness… failure is nothing in front of this loss… where at one moment you have everything in life and the very same day, a few moments later, you’ve lost everything… you stand blank, wondering what happened… did it happen with you? Is it really true? Suddenly everyone was a stranger to me… I had no one to talk to… no one to turn to… and my mind is so clogged and cluttered right now… that it is going to blast.”
She pressed her lips and leaned by the wall too, with a deep sigh. Her head was tucked to the wall and her small hands rested on her knees.
He continued, “I feel like my entire life was a lie… what I was thinking and what I believed was a sham… I just assumed things… and went on believing that. Just to avoid getting hurt, I distanced myself from my mother who perhaps needed me the most at that time. I never realised…” His throat choked.
Nandini turned her face to look at him. His eyes were red and teary. Tears rolled down his eyes as he continued to speak after a pause, “My mom used to find solace in Gaurvi because she stayed more with her and I thought that she loves her more. I had developed that little envy and hated her for that. To get my attention, she used to taunt me and make me feel low… I felt like whatever I did was not enough for her… to avoid attacks on my self-esteem, I stayed at a distance and those attacks increased because that was my mom’s cry for help… we grew closer to Meera masi … she loved us so much, unconditionally… without asking anything in return… and she didn’t have kids…so it was us for her to focus… I didn’t know that it depressed mom… it became so complicated that I stopped feeling close to mom… I love her, I care for her…but I couldn’t share my problems with her like I did with Meera masi… or now… with you…”
Nandini spoke softly, “You were so distant that you didn’t realise when she stopped trusting you too. She knew that you were close to masi and that is why she fought with masi…”
“And tried to commit suicide after dad told her that she was wrong. I can’t believe it that dad can be so irresponsible…” His words became suddenly bitter and angry, so much that he clasped fingers of his hands, “How can he take it so casually??… He didn’t even inform me?? Mom could have died on those two instances… I could have lost her… forever…”
He stopped speaking as his throat choked. He dipped his face low and pressed his lips as his tears continued to fall. He kept speaking, “If I knew… I could have helped her… got her treated… listened to you when you were speaking about it… I would have been more accepting…”
Nandini kept wiping her tears and pressed her lips hard. Manik was so hurt that he didn’t know how to hold himself. For the first time in life, his emotions had overwhelmed him. What he had been avoiding for his entire life, he had to face it so harshly… a brush with heartbreak… in the most ruthless way, possible.
Nandini’s heart broke for Manik too. The fact that she loved him more than everything else, was undeniable. She wished she could take his pain too. Manik closed his eyes and covered his face in his palms. After a moment, he spoke again, taking a deep breath, “I’m such a loser at relationships… I don’t know how to deal with people… I messed up… I messed up big time… My family… mom… dad… you… I’ve hurt everyone…”
Nandini couldn’t restrain herself. She stretched her hand towards him and pressed his shoulder, warmly and reassuringly. Her tiny, delicate hands were so soft, so full of love that he could hold no more. On an impulse, he turned to her and buried his face over her shoulder, letting go his stream of tears. He held her strongly. She was startled. Instinctively, she raised her other hand to place it on his head, softly stroking it.
“I’m so sorry, Nandu… so sorry… you were only trying to help… but I was not ready to listen. And when you insisted, everyone heard it… it went out of hand after mom got angry and walked out on us… I felt guilty… I couldn’t handle my emotions… I didn’t realise that I was taking my anger out on you… I was so angry that I couldn’t control…”
She closed her eyes. They were already hurting and reddened and overflowing with tears. She wished she could say something to console him. But she had no words. She stroked his head lovingly.
They talked for a long time. Manik was worried that Latika was still unconscious. Nandini told him that it was because she was dehydrated and hypotensive. She would gain consciousness at any time. Manik told her about his childhood and how he used to judge his mom for being partial, for being careless, for preferring Gaurvi, for her mood swings upsetting others. Nandini told him about her chacha who was almost similar but more on the manic side of the spectrum and not on the depressive side. He was a health freak, a runner, a Chartered Accountant and successful in life, contrary to public belief that loneliness and failure were the reasons for his suicide.
Manik lay his head on Nandini’ s shoulder and stretched himself. He kept talking. He had never talked so much in his entire life. He just wanted to be with her and to stop talking was to break the connection. Nandini was his ultimate saviour and peace. She was home to him.
When the sunrays fell on the window glass and birds started chirping, they realised that it was morning already.
“Is it morning? So soon?”
“It’s 5:30 am.” She informed him.
“We were talking for the entire night?” He asked, straightening himself, feeling much better.
“Yeah!” She sighed softly. Slowly, she stretched herself and got down the couch.
Manik was observing her. She might have talked to him for the entire night, from 1- 5:30… she might have listened to him, gave him support… she might have held him and sat by him as strong support… but she was not his Nandini anymore. She had changed.
She was not talking more than she should. She was not excited about the morning or the birds. About how scared she was last night, the way he said that. She was not even smiling. She was replying in monosyllables and gestures or small sentences. She was more reserved than ever before. In fact, she wasn’t reserved even on the first day when they met each other… All of it was painful to accept and he hoped that it was a temporary phase.
“Where are you going?” He asked when she moved away.
“I need to get ready. I have to reach the hospital by 8:00 am.” She collected her hair in a bunch and made a loose, casual bun at the nape of her neck.
“Oh Gossh!!! Why didn’t you tell me? You should have slept, na!”
“It’s okay!” She smiled lightly and was about to go to the corridor that led to the bedroom when he stopped her. She stopped, “What?”
Manik approached her and asked, “You didn’t sleep last night too. Will you be able to manage?”
She shrugged, feeling uncomfortable at his concern for the first time. She didn’t like him asking her about her sleep. She tried to dismiss the discussion, “I’ll manage an hour or two of sleep at the hospital, don’t worry!”
He pressed his lips, looking at her vulnerable baby face and puffed eyes, her creamy skin and silky hair… everything about her was so delicate and soft… her heart was softer than everything else…why he couldn’t notice all this before speaking yesterday… how could he say all that…
She raised her brows, “Hmm?”
Hesitatingly, he picked up a curl of her hair and pushed it behind her ear, letting his fingers graze through his skin, touching and caressing her, “Thank you. For holding me and listening to me, last night.”
“Hmm!” She nodded, and turned away, “I need to go.”
“Nandu, one second…”
“Yeah?” She stopped and turned again.
Hopefully and keeping his voice optimistic, he asked, “I apologised to you, yesterday night. And I will apologise for as many times as you say… can I hope… for you to forgive me?”
She opened her mouth to speak when he stopped her by placing his hand before her.
“Wait… if you don’t want to forgive… that is fine too…you can punish me. I’ll do whatever you say and take any amount of punishment…please don’t be angry with me… please???”
She nodded and said, “I’m not angry, Manik. And I can’t punish you… coz I understand… I know why you did that…why you were so angry… if I was in your place and my parents had left my home because of you, I would have been super angry… I would have thrown tantrums and fought with you strongly… so I understand…please don’t apologise anymore … your outburst was natural.”
He heaved a sigh of relief and smiled. His hand lowered from her face to her hand as he grasped her hand in his own, warmly and lovingly, “I was so scared that you will be angry and hurt…”
She wasn’t smiling. She removed her hand from his hold softly, surprising him. Then she spoke patiently, “Manik, I said that I am not angry because I understand the outburst. I never said that I am not hurt. I AM hurt… and it is not because you shouted at me or fought with me… I would have done the same… but the main difference between me and you is that I would have never said that it’s over between us… it’s a marriage… not a joke… that you can end it over a bad temper…”
He didn’t understand what she wanted to say. But she worried him. He waited for her to finish when she dropped the final bomb, “I’ve forgiven your anger… your not trying to understand my point of view… your harsh words because you were hurt too…but what shattered me was that how easy it was for you to say that I can leave the house and you… and go away…”
He now understood the gravity of the situation and knew that it wasn’t easy to get something back that you pushed away so mercilessly. He tried to explain, almost nervous and panic-stricken, “Listen, Nandu… it’s not like…”
“Like what?… I would have accepted fights…every couple fights… I would have accepted blaming me for destroying you… yes, for a moment, it happened due to my words…I would have accepted telling me that you hated me…it would have been momentary outburst… but I can’t accept that we wasted our time in the last 4 months because this relationship is so fickle that it can end like that… Manik, all these days you were just ‘thinking’ and made me believe too that I was close to you.. whereas, I am at the same place as once your family was… as your ex-girlfriend…as Dhruv… as anyone who threatens to hurt you… they are pushed away, out of your life… you did the same with me… you will do it again…and again… every time we fight… ” Her tears kept dropping down, “Manik, you don’t trust people, you don’t trust relationships… you were right… you don’t need people in your life. If they are there, you can tell them to f*ck off as and when it suits you!” Her face hardened with that, while her tears fell down, wetting her cheeks.
He was at loss of words. He didn’t know what to say. After a moment, he whispered, “I’m sorry!”
“Manik… I can’t live with you, anymore… You have broken my faith in this relationship!”