Another try at romance… Hope you enjoy 🙂
“Will you tell it for one last time?” she asked me in her quavering voice, that I sensed was losing its clarity gradually.
“Sure sweetheart,” I said in a husky voice, placing my shaky hand over hers on the bed.
“Grandpa, not again!” my seven year old grandson, Nitin cried.
“Shh,” my daughter Preeti hushed him up, “Come, let’s wait outside,” she said and everyone who surrounded me and my wife now left us alone.
“Grandpa, shall I too listen to the story once again?” my three year old granddaughter Akansha, asked me, poking my shoulder.
I nodded my head and helped her climb the bed. She crawled over and kissed her grandma’s forehead fondly.
“Ok lemme start now,” I began, “But I’ll narrate the story as if it happened recently…”
‘Forty seven years back…
I saw her today too. The same brown eyes, set with determination and her sanguine face that suggested the tough fight that she is giving life which tries to pull her down and shatter all her dreams.
This is the image that formed in my mind when I saw her one month back. The early risers who frequent the Marina beach will identify her jogging every single morning, around six, sporting in her black tracks and a long top that revealed no bare body. She seemed fit and her face was always a soft pink color.
She’d smile at the regular joggers and the dimple in her cheeks had that magnetic effect on me. Her eyelashes were curved exactly like a boat, with her brown eyes twinkling with a sparkling liveliness in it.
Yeah, I agree I was in love with her and that love turned my jogging into a habit. But more than love, I had that respect for her. Something in her, maybe the way she moves with grit, or the eyes that see all the worldly evils with prudence, earned her my reverence.
That day, I sensed her exhausted, as she stopped regularly at intervals to catch her breath. Her half an hour jogging shrank to just ten minutes, I’d say. She sat down on one of the staircases, where the old people catch their early morning gossips.
“Sir, tea sir?” a boy in his pre-teens asked me.
“Two,” I said, removing my wallet from the pocket and handed over a twenty rupee note.
He poured me two cups, wondering for whom the other cup was meant to.
I took the other cup to her, placed it down and sat down beside her.
“That’s for you,” I said, pointing out to the cup when she looked at me confused.
“Excuse me,” she said, “Have we ever met before?”
I looked into her eyes that were seeking an answer to her existence in this materialistic world.
“By any chance you wouldn’t have noticed me, as I jog behind you, every day,” I explained.
“Are you flirting?” she asked, straight to the point.
I was balled over.
“No!” I cried, “I’m a widow, by the way.”
“Oh! I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“Nah, that’s fine. It’s natural for you to think that way, when a twenty nine year old guy offers a cup of tea, without any introduction,”
“Am sorry,” she said again, concealing her grin, but her dimples gave away her secret.
“Better drink the tea, before it turns cold in the salty air.”
“If you doubt me you needn’t. No compulsion,” I said taking a sip from my cup, “By the way, I’m Aditya.”
I extended my hand. She shook it warmly, but never told her name.
“Fine,” I thought, “you can’t tell a name to a complete stranger.”
“So, you jog regularly?” she asked.
“Yes.” I replied, but hid the reason “Just to see your dimples.”
Her lips resisted her from uttering a single word for another few minutes until I emptied my cup.
“Can I help myself to the other cup too, if you’re resolute not to touch it?” I asked.
“It’s not that way, it’s just…”
I just couldn’t withstand her face turning red with embarrassment.
“No,” I interrupted, “you needn’t reason out. I can understand.”
“Thank you,” she said and checked her watch. “Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got chores to do at home.”
“Yea, sure, no probs,” I said, shaking my head in a matter-of-fact manner.
Nine days later…
“And that’s what my friend did when she found out what her kid had done to her painting. She sold it as a piece of modern art,” Aakriti laughed, finishing the joke.
Yes, I got to know her name after three days, when she finally believed she could confide in me at last. We chatted, bunking our jogging sessions and I candidly talked to her about my ruined marital status (and I’m not gonna dig that up here coz this is a story about her, not me).
“So, do you miss your wife?” she asked, that day.
“Sometimes,” I sighed. “But, no, am happy I never got to see her suffer in pain badly.”
She nodded her head meditatively. But there was one thing that I never got to extract from her – if she was single and unmarried. Every time I tried to bring that subject, she’d escape by saying, “Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got chores to do at home.”
So, every single time she glanced at her watch, I’d say the same dialogue in her tone and she’d laugh silently and rush off in the distance.
A month later…
“So, now do you believe me, Aakriti?” I asked her.
“Why do you ask that question?”
“You’re drinking tea from the cup that I offered,” I said, eyeing the paper cup that was entwined by her long lanky fingers.
She gave a reassuring smile, saying, “I do, Aditya.”
Man! I just prayed she’d say the same, for the question I was about to shoot to her. She was staring at the distant sea, where the horizon met with the lovely orange sky, which was beginning to shed its glow, to light up the whole world with its single torch that had an unlimited battery life.
“So, do you love me, Aakriti?”
She was stunned and I saw her expression turn grim and she had to control her surging anger not to crush the cup between her fingers. She tried to be polite and drank the tea silently.
“Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve got chores to do at home.”
With that she was off and I was convinced, I’m not gonna see her again.
The next day…
I saw her waiting for me in the usual meeting place. She half-smiled at me and turned her face away.
I came prepared today to express my regrets and make an apology.
“I’m sorry, Aakriti. That was most stupid of me to ask you that question yesterday,” I said anxiously, hoping she’d accept my apology.
She raised her hand at me.
“Give me a sec.” it implied.
She looked behind me, anticipating someone and I turned around to see a four year old toddler run towards us. She was unable to drag her feet in the sand and run faster and an old man behind her shouted, “Slow down kid! Momma’s not going anywhere.”
The girl then ran to Aakriti, who held her hands wide and hugged the kid.
The old man joined our trio and he patted my back saying, “So, is this Aditya?” looking at Aakriti.
I exchanged looks with Aakriti and saw her nodding.
“Hello,” the old man said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Aakriti’s father.”
“Hello Sir,” I said politely.
“Aditya,” Aakriti spoke for the first time, “Meet my daughter, Preeti.”
I was traumatized.
Aakriti turned towards her daughter and spoke with her in a sign language that I didn’t understand. Then, Preeti walked towards me and waved a ‘hi’ at me, smiling. She had her mom’s same dimples.
“She’s deaf and dumb,” Aakriti said.
I was shaken. Two shocking news in one day! That’s something that’ll take months for me to digest, before realizing…
My eyes blurred and I left the place immediately without any farewell remark.
Two days later…
I waited for Aakriti’s arrival. I skipped coming to the beach for the past two days, not having the guts to face her. But today I wanted to say sorry for one last time and exit her life once and for all.
She saw me, waved her hand at me and covered the distance between us by jogging.
“Good morning!” she greeted.
I simply smiled.
“Look, am sorry,” I began straightaway, while she sat down next to me, “I didn’t mean to complicate your life. In fact, if you had told me earlier about you and your daughter, I wouldn’t have even asked you that damn question.”
“I knew one day you’d ask me, Aditya,” she said.
“What?” I was surprised.
“Yes, it was just a hunch.”
“So, do you really love me?” I asked.
“I’d not ask that question again if I were you.”
“I’m insisting,” I said.
“You wish to know even after I showed you how unhappy my married life is?” she said and I sighted tears at the corner of her eyes.
“Aditya, what…,” she was completely lost. Tears streaked her face and she wiped them away hoarsely.
“Look, if I’m gonna say yes to that question, are you gonna marry me and help me grow my daughter? Are you gonna…”
“Yes,” I cut her short.
She was left speechless. I got up, kneeled down in front of her, pulled her hands and placing them into mine, I said, “Aakriti, my love for you now extends to Preeti too. If you oblige, I assure you that she’ll receive the utmost care as how a father should render to his daughter.”
She was moved. All the tears that I guess were under lock and key all these years due to her determined nature, gushed with full force now. I sat down beside her and pulled her closer into my chest and she wept harder.
A few people stared at us and I released my grip over her.
“This is not the place, I guess. Today evening at 6 o’ clock, come here, I’ll pick you up in my car and we’ll talk in my house maybe,” I said, hoping she’d consent.
I got my positive response and she wiped her face with a kerchief.
“Meet you in the evening,” she said.
“Welcome to my sweet lonely home,” I greeted Aakriti, unlocking the front door with the key. I stepped inside and switched on the light. She was dumbstruck at my spic-and-span rooms.
“The cleanliness credit goes to my housekeeper,” I said, grinning.
After I had brewed some coffee, I placed two large mugs and poured some coffee into it. I also filled two plates with cakes and pastries and took them to the hall, where she was comfortably seated in the sofa. I placed the delicacies in the table that was in front of her and sate opposite to her.
“Help yourself,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said, first attacking a piece of cake.
“Aakriti, you’re not under pressure to tell me about your marriage. Only if you feel so, you may tell me.”
“It’s been five years since I got married,” she began, “His name is Karthik. The initial stages after our wedding felt like heaven. But soon, I got to know that he was allegedly forced to marry me. He was in relationship with a girl, before my marriage. When his parents were brought to limelight, plans were immediately drawn and they got him married to me. But he was brave. He tried to overcome his love failure initially by trying to love me and those were my days of heaven. But, he could bear no more of me as soon as Preeti was born a year later.”
She took a long sip of her coffee and I waited patiently till she resumed.
“He couldn’t forget his old lover and got addicted to alcohol. Another year passed by and I lost hope in him that he’d change. I didn’t want him to turn a drunkard because of me. I found his lost love and united them. And then, I moved to my parents’ house and my Dad and Mom cooperate with me in taking care of Preeti.”
Bravo!” I praised.
“Not exactly!” she said, “Life’s been tough after I separated from Karthik and got a divorce. This society…” she paused, “People love to know what happens in other’s lives more than theirs. I wonder what thrill they get from it.”
“That’s how an Indian society is!” I said.
“It was harder for my parents in the beginning to answer all the idiotic questions from my nosy relatives, but now, they got used to it and know how to retort.”
“Hmmm,” I said.
“But, the one thing I’m worried is that the fifteen thousand I earn is not enough for the operation I need to do for Preeti plus for her speech therapy.”
And tears blocked her view and she cried silently. I got up, sat next to her and hugged her, “And I’m gonna help you for that.”
All she needed now was comfort and not romance.
“Aakriti, I don’t care if you’re gonna say yes or no to the question I had asked you, but I’m gonna provide all the money required for Preeti’s treatment. I’m aware an early diagnosis might help her to speak and hear soon.”
She nodded her head.
“All my paychecks go to my parents as I’ve only little expense living alone here and my parents are worried about my solitude. Besides, they’d be happy to help you in a cause that involves a baby’s life.”
“Thank you for your offer, but no thanks. I need no sympathy,” she said declining.
“This is not about you. This is about Preeti. It’s her life. She deserves to be given the sense to hear and speak and you’re not gonna lose that because of your ego.”
Eventually, after much persuasion she obliged.
A year later…
“Will you please sign here?” the registrar asked me, pointing at the end of the page.
Yes, we are getting married in the Register Office today. It wasn’t an elaborate wedding, just a simple one. We decided that our parents’ and friends’ company were enough to bless us unconditionally.
Preeti’s operation was a grand success, nine months back and her speech therapy improved her hearing and speaking skills. She was under constant care and she began to ask Aakriti when I’d visit her again.
The bond between me and Preeti grew stronger and I played with her everyday and she got to love me even more. Finally, Aakriti’s parents made Aakriti understand the importance of a father in Preeti’s life and her love for me. After pondering over three months and realizing Preeti’s affection over me, Aakriti relented to marry me as she felt that was the best gift she could give her daughter in her lifetime.
“Congrats!” my friend Sunil exclaimed when I had tied the three knots around her neck.
“Thanks!” I said.
“Sister,” he said, turning to Aakriti, “Wish you a happy married life.”
A year later, our son Nirav is born. We decided long back that if Preeti had a sibling, she’d get more interactive and speak soon and hence, Nirav comes into the picture.
And over the years, I still love Aakriti for her passionate love towards life and her family and of course for those dimples and twinkling eyes that has the sparkling liveliness in it. But still I don’t know the answer to the question I had asked her,’ I said, finishing the story.
My granddaughter Akansha clapped her hands and cried joyously, “And they lived happily ever after!”
“Yes!” I said, “And that’s how my sweet darling Akansha was born.”
“Grandpa, I’m not your darling. It’s Grandma!” she rejoined with her chocolate brown eyes widening and her eyebrows arching up, “Isn’t it Grandma?”
I saw the seventy six year old Aakriti trying to smile in vain in her death bed.
“Grandma, now you answer to the question Grandpa asked you,” Akansha ordered, placing her tiny hand over our clasped hands, “Did you love Grandpa?”
I laughed softly and a tear rolled down from Aakriti’s right eye.
“I always loved you, Adit…”
But the sentence remained unfinished as I saw Aakriti’s eyes close, life bidding a satisfied goodbye at her, as she entered the eternal sleep forever …