“How was your journey beta? Hope you didn’t have any trouble on the way Harsha?” Nisha asked for the nth time as Harsha sat drinking coffee in their drawing room. Rajani was of no help as she sat at the far end pleating the edge of her kurta.
“Good. I am fine thank you.” Harsha was polite and respectful as if the last time’s incident had never happened.
Nisha shivered and rubbed her arms. “It has suddenly become cold. Isn’t it?”
Harsha put down his cup. “Yes.”
“How is it in Delhi?” Nisha wished Ritu was here to take off the burden of making conversation. She was better off in the kitchen.
“Warmer than Chandigarh I think but the nights are very cold.”
“Rani,” Nisha turned to Rajani, “Take Harsha to the terrace. It is nice and warm up there. Go on. Take him.” Nisha narrowed her eyes and indicated insistently that Rajani do her bidding – or else.
Conditioned into obeying her mother and seeing no point in avoiding the inevitable Rajani got up.
“Go on beta,” Nisha encouraged, “the view is great from the terrace.”
“Thank you.” He nodded to them and followed Rajani.
The terrace was warm and welcoming. There was a shed like structure with a casual seating arrangement a few pots and plants showed half-hearted attempts at gardening. Harsha wandered to the edge of the balcony and stared at the mountains looming in the distance. Rajani shuffled awkwardly from one foot to another.
Should she speak or would he?
After about 10 min of silence, Rajani coughed. “How are you?” she asked.
Harsha shrugged. “Fine.”
They lapsed into silence.
Did he even want her back?
But he was here.
Surely that meant something?
But so was she on the terrace with him.
Had he too been coerced into bringing her back?
But this wasn’t right! Rajani thought with sudden clarity. The torture and the agony of the past couple of months would have been all for nothing. It was important that they talk frankly, clear up the air…
They spoke simultaneously. Rajani retreated. “Please go on.”
Harsha nodded. “I arranged that accountant’s job. They have given the appointment letter. You can join as soon as you are ready.” He slid a hand into his coat pocket and took out an envelope. He held it out to her.
Rajani read the contents eagerly. A job! A real job. A life away from home. This was what she wanted didn’t she?
“Th…Thank you.” She stuttered.
“I have had the letter for a week now. My friend keeps asking when you can join.”
Rajani’s heart thudded. A job is exactly what she needed. But what about the separate house that Papa had mentioned? She wasn’t going back without sorting that out. Or the other thing that mattered the most. She clenched her fists and dug her heels in.
“Papa spoke about a separate apartment.” Her voice was low, guilty and apprehensive.
“Is that so very essential? Can you not adjust? My mother is old. She forgot about the letter. She apologized. Must you make such a big thing about it?” Harsha sounded reasonable
“It’s not just about the letter Harsha.” Rajani felt emboldened to speak. “I don’t feel comfortable in that house. It’s like I am an outsider there. I have no rights, not even that of a guest and yet worse than a servant. I can’t even have a cup of tea if I want. I can’t live like this.”
“What nonsense.” He dismissed.
“You won’t understand Harsha. It’s your home. If you had to spend your life in my home, out here, perhaps you would understand. How would you have adjusted then I wonder.”
“I’ll speak to Mummy. I am sure it can be sorted out.”
“What’s the problem with a separate apartment? In the same complex. I have no issues with that. But I want some freedom, some privacy, some…”
“Will you be able to manage home and job together? Think carefully, looking after a house, arranging meals is no child’s play. And you’re so inexperienced…”
“I will learn. Nobody is born experienced, but if I am not given the chance, how will I learn? Am I to always just serve plates and food? I can also cook maybe not the dishes your mother can but I have my own repertoire but I am never given a chance to do my thing. I would like to decide the menu for once and cook it. Who knows you may like it more than your mother’s cooking?” she challenged.
“So confident?” Harsha said mildly enough but there was a distinct mocking tone. But Rajani refused to rise to it.
“Yes. I am confident.”
Harsha shrugged. “Time will tell whether or not your confidence is misplaced. For now Mummy is looking for a flat and expects to finalize it in a day or two.”
“Fine. I will come after it is finalized and you have shifted there.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?” The mask was off and Harsha’s eyes bulged. “Some kind of Maharani? Giving orders right left and center?”
Rajani paled and flinched. “When did I give orders?” she quavered.
“You said you would come after I had shifted there. Right?”
“Do you have any idea what all shifting house entails? My mother is going out of the way to shortlist houses for you but you have to live in it and you should take the final decision otherwise later you will complain this is bad and that is not right. You want to shift house not me. So readying the new house, whitewashing to cleaning to furnishings to purchasing is your responsibility. Do you expect to be served a fully furnished accommodation of your liking on a platter? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Rajani was silent as the enormity of the responsibility suddenly hit her. But she also felt the first stirrings of life, of interest – a home like she wanted. But for that she would have to go back inside that house – no! Every fiber of her being rebelled, she couldn’t she wouldn’t. But she would have to. Like it or not. She wasn’t cutting off ties completely. There would be dinners, get togethers…
Besides at least once she would have to step inside that house – her certificates were still there.
“I…I…she coughed and cleared her throat. “I mean,” she faltered and began again but words failed her. She gritted her teeth. She had to do this. She had to. Otherwise she would just take her certificates and leave. “I just wanted to know, if you are okay.” She said in a rush.
Harsha frowned. His brow cleared. It was his turn to pale.
“More or less.” He mumbled.
His hesitation gave her strength. “What does that mean? What did the doctor say?” She retaliated with perhaps greater force than was necessary.
“Are you so desperate?” He instantly lashed out. “Is that how you got the money to travel to Chandigarh that night?”
Rajani stared at him uncomprehendingly until the arrow struck home. She launched herself at him with a screech. He held her off. She jerked herself free and made a dash for the stairs. “Papa!”
He caught hold of her by the arm. “I am sorry!” He said. “I didn’t mean it. But you started it.” He accused.
“What did I do? I just asked if you were okay. If we could have a baby that’s what I wanted. Everyone is pestering me, questioning me, when the prob…. I am not desperate at all.” Self-righteous anger shook her.
“Is having or not having a baby all my fault? All is not well with you either is it?” He counterattacked.
Rajani sobered. “Who told you?” she whispered.
He shrugged. “Even the walls have ears.”
“And tongues apparently.” Rajani sneered.
“That’s not important. What’s important is that unless you are able to conceive…”
“I am taking treatment and the doctor has assured me that there is absolutely no reason not to have a baby and soon.” Rajani stressed.
“My doctor also said the same thing.” Harsha asserted. “I also want a child. I am sick of these questions and by the end of next year we will have a child or go our separate ways.”
“Suits me fine.”
“There are moments that define a person’s whole life. MOMENTS in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become hinge on a single decision.” ― Jonathan Maberry,
Click here for the next chapter: Obstacle Course