Khanak rushed back to the clinic for the last appointment of the day. She knew she was late but one of her patient’s indigestion had turned out to be a heart attack and he had to be rushed to the hospital. That happened to be one of the reasons why she avoided booking her late appointments. She didn’t like to keep her patients waiting. To make matters worse Deepak had waylaid her when she had stopped to get a cup of java at the hospital coffee shop. She had spotted him there loudly castigating one of the attendants for serving him dark mocha when he had asked for white chocolate. The poor man obviously in awe of Deepak’s name tag and scrubs didn’t bother to defend himself instead he literally dissolved in front of the screaming doctor.
Was Deepak creating a tamasha to give the curious onlookers an ugly demonstration of his power? That no matter how badly he behaved he could get away with it like some small time minister who had forgotten that the very people who had voted him in could as easily vote him out?
Khanak thought she had slipped out unnoticed when he suddenly materialized behind her and tapped her on her shoulder. She reacted heatedly; “Don’t you dare touch me Deepak. Don’t think that working with me gives you the right to do so.”
“Hey aren’t we touchy here! I’m sorry Khanak but whenever I want to talk, you just run.”
“What kind of talk?” she said not bothering to stop.
“About us Khanak, our friendship;” he said, his tone implying what his words didn’t.
She swung around and stared him in the eye; “Deepak who told you we are friends? We are not. So there is nothing to talk about.”
“Please Khanak. You know what I mean. Think about it. Maybe sometime over dinner?” he said not backing down in the slightest.
“I’ll think about it;” she said and hurried out of the side entrance before he could stop her. She knew he had to be dealt with some day. But right now she had an appointment to keep.
Shantanu stood at the clinic windows looking out. They had begun to fog up from the rain. Almost two hours had passed since he had arrived. He was beginning to have doubts about whether Khanak would make it to the appointment. Had she seen his name on the list and decided to give him the slip? He didn’t believe so. If she didn’t want to see him again she would tell it to his face. That was his Khanak—strong, bold and frank.
When he had arrived half an hour before his appointment, the secretary had taken one look at him and smiled apparently having deduced his purpose. But on seeing Megha her eyebrows had gone up in curiosity.
“My niece;” Shaan had said.
“Nice move. Dr. Agarwal loves kids;” she had replied with a cheeky grin. She had then left at six thirty saying her day was done but gave him the assurance that the good Doctor was not known to miss her appointments.
That had been more than forty minutes ago and Shaan was getting restless sitting in the empty waiting area. He glanced at Megha who was deeply engrossed with her teddy bear. She had attached herself to him, for some reason convinced that his Doctor Aunty was also her Doctor Aunty. He had let her come along in the hope that perhaps when Khanak saw her she wouldn’t kick him out right away. But he had asked Dharam to drive them as he didn’t trust himself behind the wheel so soon after the accident. And with Megha there he couldn’t afford to take any risks.
Khanak stopped in her tracks. She had just walked in and was trying to squeeze the water out from her hair and sari while cursing her umbrella that the wind had rendered useless.
Khanak’s heart started to thump hard and fast as the vision of a little lost girl clad in a blood splattered pink dress flashed before her eyes. Then she nearly fell over when a little body bumped into her legs and proceeded to bury its face in her sari and wrap its little arms tightly around her knees.
“Megha?” Khanak whispered not believing her eyes.
The little person nodded and hugged her even tighter. A look of sublime bliss transformed Khanak’s face as she lifted the child up and clasped her to her bosom and spontaneous tears spurted from her eyes as Megha burrowed her face into her neck.
After a moment’s silence Megha kissed Khanak on her cheek and said; “Doctor Aunty see who’s here to see you too.” She showed Khanak her teddy bear who by this time had fractured his left arm and was devoid of his beady nose as well.
All this while Shantanu had been standing at the doorway and quietly watching them. The two seemed so perfect together. So very much like a loving mother and child. He had become so engaged in the scene that his objective had almost slipped his mind.
“Oh doctor aunty, I almost forgot. There’s somebody else who has a problem besides Teddy,”
“Who is it my dear?”
“Chachu! You can come in now. Don’t be afraid. My doctor aunty is very nice.”
Shaan stepped in looking somewhat sheepish and smiled at Khanak who stared wide eyed at him above Megha’s head. He saw a gamut of emotions pass through her beautiful eyes. First there was shock, then disbelief, then confusion, followed by indignation that made them transform into an even darker shade. He was sure he had seen a hint of tenderness there too though it had been transient.
Khanak inhaled deeply and looked at Megha; “What is your uncle’s problem Megha?”
“Guess. It begins with an ‘H’ and ends with an ‘Ache’!” Megha giggled clearly seeming to be enjoying their little game.
Khanak glared at Shaan who placed a hand over his heart and unsuccessfully tried to appear to be in great distress. “Is it a headache?” she asked while her mind thought–Dhongi! (pretender) I won’t give in so easily.
“Yes! It is a headache, right chachu?” To which Shaan nodded and let out a loud moan that made Megha squeal with delight and clap her hands.
Khanak was getting more incensed by the minute; “How long has it been going on?”
“Ever since he left the hospital;” Megha declared seriously.
“And it has been getting worse by the day;” Shaan assumed his most seductive smile and looked directly at Khanak. It was an open invitation for her to swoon right there and fall into his arms.
Khanak could sense cracks developing in the invisible wall that she had carefully constructed around her heart. Why me? She thought as her knees began to buckle. She held on to her desk for support.
“Aren’t you going to check his heart with this?” Megha asked sweetly pointing to the stethoscope hanging around Khanak’s neck.
Khanak smiled at her. She didn’t trust herself near him. She didn’t want to give him any hint of the tornado that was creating havoc inside her right now. But she couldn’t let Megha down either. “Can you be my assistant and put the stethoscope on your uncle’s chest while I listen?” she said.
Megha was happy to oblige. Khanak listened to Shaan’s heart. The beats were regular, loud and clear and the rhythm so soothing that it could easily lull her to sleep. She gave herself a jerk to shake out the image of her head resting on his chest and declared that he was fine.
“But Aunty! Will you not give him some yucky medicine to take?” Megha asked looking terribly disappointed.
Khanak broke out into a laugh and so did Shaan. She was thankful to Megha for breaking the spell and kissed her lovingly on the forehead. Then she quickly scribbled on her prescription pad, tore off the sheet and handed it to Shaan who at once pocketed it. “Yes Megha, nobody leaves my clinic without getting some really nasty stuff. You have the makings of a great doctor sweetheart.” She then turned to Shaan; “It was nice meeting you Mr. Khandelwal.”
“Call me Shantanu or Shaan, Doctor Khanak,” Shaan intoned huskily while extending his hand towards her.
She reluctantly accepted it and was shocked when he yanked her to him. She closed her eyes and listened with her heart in her throat as he whispered in her ear, his breath like a warm caress on her cheek; “Two can play the game my dear. Soon my ache will become yours. Till then my love, hold on to your heart.” Then he was gone and so was her little friend.
PS: Hope you’re liking this story.