10: Hide and Seek
He is still alive. Khanak sighed with relief and tried to will her heart to slow down. She read the note again slowly this time. Then again and again. He calls me his innocent love. How dare he! I’m neither innocent, nor am I his love. ‘May I always be the man in your dreams.’ Man in my dreams? How can he stake a claim on my dreams or me for that matter? She almost wished she had prescribed rat poison. But then she would have been staring at a suicide note instead and nursing her cold in a miserable jail cell.
In frustration she banged her hand against the desk then yelled out in pain. She had struck a sharp edge. Tears sprouted from her eyes. Of pain, anguish and doubt. She stared at the cut in her hand then grabbed some tissue to stem the flow of blood. The wound in my hand will stop hurting soon, she thought. But not the one that he has inflicted upon my heart. He is treating me like one of his random girlfriends. He probably has several to whom he dashes off pretty notes. They probably follow him around like lost puppies and he chooses to award them with his attention like favors for good behavior. But I’m not one of them. I have my own identity and my own life.
But why is he so bent on upsetting it?
Aaachooo! She sneezed again. Her head had begun to ache and feel heavy. She was pretty sure she looked more like a patient than a doctor at this time. She had skipped her sari today. Instead she had opted for a simple salwar suit and just run the brush through her hair. She hadn’t even felt like wearing her usual minimalistic makeup. She had never felt so rotten.
Akshay stepped out of the bathroom and was pleasantly surprised when he saw Megha and Khushboo together. It had become such a rare occurrence that sometimes he wondered if Khushboo was indeed Megha’s mother. He smiled when he saw his life’s most precious gift sitting on the dressing table in her school uniform, her legs tucked underneath her, staring wide eyed at her mother as she expertly applied her makeup. Khushboo, who always enjoyed an audience was explaining each and every step to her and even letting her hold her precious brushes and tubes of face paint.
“Khushi…” Akshay said, buttoning up his shirt. All of a sudden he felt overcome with emotion.
“Hmmm?” his wife glanced sharply at him since he hadn’t addressed her like that in years. She then lost her captive audience when her daughter jumped off the table and ran to her father who swung her up and propped her on his shoulders. It was a ritual they had adopted since the accident. “Megha stop! Why do you indulge her so much Akshay? She will get spoiled and so will your shirt.” Khushboo said.
“She deserves every ounce of attention we can give her because she’s our baby! And who cares about this shirt Khushboo. Not me!” Akshay said irked to realize that his wife had just been showing off in front of their little girl.
“By the way, what did want to ask me earlier when you had called me Khushi so sweetly?” She said returning to her mirror.
“Never mind. It wasn’t anything much;” He brushed her off. Actually he had wanted to talk to her about a companion for Megha, such as a baby brother. But he had been misled by what he had seen. A terrible miscalculation that he wouldn’t make again.
Shaan was feeling quite sprightly that morning. He had woken up at 0700 feeling supremely refreshed and ready to face a new day. He had showered and dressed himself in a record time of half an hour and even tried to dance a jig with Harilal who thought that Shaan baba had gone mad. Madhavi’s scream brought him back to his senses.
“Shaan! I hope you are not hiding something from me son. If so don’t hesitate to let me know before it’s too late. You know I’m a modern woman and I know about these things so I think I could handle it, though it would be very disappointing. What will I tell my friends?”
“What are you trying to say mom? I hope you didn’t experiment too much at the party last night.” Shaan grinned.
“I didn’t. I meant the G word. Don’t make me say it. You know sometimes I wonder there is a reason that you don’t have a steady girlfriend.”
Shaan roared with laughter; “Mom! If you mean gay, then rest assured I’m not. And the reason I haven’t gone steady with a woman so far is because I haven’t found anyone whom I’ve really liked.”
“TG!” his mother exclaimed. “I’d gotten a little worried. Now, tell me how long is this going to last or do you want me to help?”
“No thanks;” Shaan retorted anxiously. “I think I’m old enough to handle it on my own.”
Madhavi adjusted her designer sari. “Hokay. Chalo. But make sure she has a good dress sense. You know I’m very particular about that.”
Shaan nodded heaving a subdued sigh of relief. He was thankful that Khanak was as simple as they come.
His good mood was evident to Akshay too as they drove together to work. Shaan appeared lost in another world while quietly humming along to some old Hindi numbers. He was thinking–She must have got the letter by now and the bottle. I wish I had been there to see her reaction. It must have been priceless.
“Dr. Agarwal is indeed one lucky girl Shaan.” Akshay said.
His brother stopped humming. “Really? You think so?”
“Indeed any girl who can win my brother’s heart is very lucky cause I can see it in your eyes that you’ll leave no stone unturned to make her happy.”
“I hope she too realizes that soon for my sake bro!” Shaan smiled. Then he said; “By the way how did you end up marrying bhabhi if you don’t mind my asking because she is definitely is not your type.
“I don’t mind Shaan.” Akshay responded looking grim. “Well, I was very young and she was very beautiful and I guess I was blown away when she agreed to come out with me. I couldn’t believe my luck and proposed right away. And when Dad found out about it he wasted no time and before I could blink we were engaged. I was very naive and in love. I believe I’m still so. That is why I continue to tolerate her tantrums.”
Shaan could hear the bitterness in his brother’s voice. He loved him dearly and had always wished him the best. He remembered he had too been dazzled by Khushboo and in fact had for some time envied his brother for marrying her. Only later had he come to realize that her glamor hid a pretty shallow interior where there was no place for anyone besides herself.
At work everyone was surprised to see him in a great mood. He was all smiles and thanked people individually for their get well soon messages and flowers. When his secretary informed him about the monumental amount of pending work he had, he gave her a broad grin and told her to bring it on.
“Did anything come for me today?” he asked turning serious all of a sudden.
“No sir nothing that I know of. Were you expecting something?”
“Never mind. Let me know ASAP when you get anything all right?” he said and walked into his office. He told himself it was too early to expect a response from Khanak. She had her work to attend to. Perhaps after lunch time. He knew she wouldn’t be able to resist shooting a nasty retort to his note. Of that he was certain.
But as time passed he grew restless. He found himself unable to concentrate on his work. He kept watching the clock and the door. Sheila kept walking in and out of his office informing him of his various meetings and appointments that he listened to with only half an ear. Nothing came that day nor the next. By the third day he was in a frenzy. Maybe something’s happened to her or……. No that’s impossible, she can’t ignore me like that. Not my Khanak. I have to find out. I have to see her.
He rushed out asking Sheila to delegate the work as she saw fit leaving her looking frustrated.
Khanak decided that the only way she could stop thinking about Shaan was to immerse herself into work. This proved to be pretty hard to accomplish for he seemed to sneak his way in during the few odd times she paused to rest. Be it at lunch time or during her frequent coffee breaks, he seemed to hover just in the vicinity. And she could forget about sleeping, for that seemed to his permanent haunt. Her restless mind had given him various disguises, and he seemed to make good use of them by making his appearances in different avatars.
I can’t give it to him, I can’t let him win. I just won’t sleep! She resolved.
It had been more than thirty-six hours since Khanak had slept (not accounting for a quick nap or nodding off during her meals) and she was pretty confident that she was on the verge of proving Shaan wrong.
She entered the coffee shop adjacent to the hospital. It has become like home to her. She had been haunting it like Shaan had been haunting her and the attendants had gotten pretty used to seeing her there all the time.
Sambhal Khanak! People will think that you are drunk! Khanak thought as she swayed on her feet dizzy with exhaustion.
Somehow she managed to make it to a table and sit down. She propped her head in her hands and closed her eyes. Then she jerked upright when someone placed a cup of steaming fragrant cappuccino in front of her. Then the person took the seat in front of her and gave her a wide smile. He happened to be the spitting image of her nemesis. Was she dreaming with her eyes open.
Shaan’s smile turned into a look of concern when he saw Khanak look at him as if she had seen a ghost. And she seemed none too pleased either. He waved his hand in front of her face and tried to level the playing field; “Hey Doc. I am Shaan. Shantanu Khandelwal. I happen to be your favorite patient remember?”
But madam continued to looked pissed. “How did you find me here?”
“It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out what your favorite place is besides the hospital;” Shaan replied with a fond look in his eyes.
“Then how did you know what I like to drink?”
“Elementary Watson! Anybody could tell me what the pretty doctor’s favorite cuppa is! And it is just like you. Fresh, strong and smooth.”
“And why are you talking to me like that?”
“Because I am your future husband of course! Koi shaque?” Shaan said oozing with confidence.
The object of his desires sighed and reached for the cup with a shaking hand. But before she could take a sip she collapsed in a heap in front of him.
My ears resound with your voice
Your likeness dominates my vision
Your name is at the tip of my tongue
You’ve accomplished your mission