“Hello?” Lalit picked up his phone. “Namaste Ahujaji. Yes don’t worry, Rajani is with…what?” Rajani’s heart thudded as Lalit turned around to glare at Kirti. He put the phone on speaker.
Suryakant was speaking. “Suriji what you did wasn’t right. Please leave Rani at her home.”
“I don’t believe this!” Lalit was furious. “Do you have any idea what happened? When we reached…”
“I don’t care. If there is any problem, Rani will tell me and I will sort it out. Please don’t interfere…”
“What are you saying Bhaisahab?” Kirti couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “We had no choice but to intervene, Harsha was abusing her and was going to hit her…”
“Please Bhabhiji, let her be. Running away isn’t going to sort anything. Things are only going to get worse. Please drop her back home. It’s just a minor misunderstanding. They explained everything. There’s nothing to worry or take such a drastic…”
“Minor misunderstanding! You didn’t see what we saw Bhaisahab. If you had been there even you would have done the same thing. Let her come home. Let her tell her side of the story…”
“Rani is an immature child. She is not worldly wise and has a tendency to over-react. I have talked to her in-laws and am satisfied that a small thing has been blown out of proportion. Please drop her back home.”
“Ahujaji,” Lalit’s voice was steely with determination, “We are bringing her home.”
“And what right do you have to take her anywhere?” Suryakant flew off the handle.
“Bhaisahab! Kirti gasped horrified. “Rani is like our daughter!”
“Excuse me Bhabhiji but there is a lot of difference between a daughter and like a daughter. Please drop her back to her home to where she belongs.”
“I’m sorry I cannot do that Ahujaji,” Lalit refused to budge. “I am bringing her home and then…”
“Then nothing!” Rajani flinched as Suryakant began shouting and screaming. “If you bring Rani to Chandigarh I swear I will hang from the fan.”
“Go ahead hang yourself.” Snapped Lalit. “That’s what you should do if you do not have the gumption take care of your own daughter.”
“How dare you! Before I hang myself I will go to the police station and file a case of kidnapping against you.”
Rajani could hear her mother shrieking and wailing in the background.
“Papa! Papa!” Rajani leaned forward and took the phone from Lalit’s hand. “Papa, please calm down. I am going back. I promise. Please relax. You will fall ill Papa. Please Papa. Uncle, please tell the driver to turn back. Driverji please take the car back. Mamma, is Papa okay? Please tell me. Mamma! Papa?” Rajani was hysterical.
“Yes Rani I’m okay.” Suryakant’s voice was faint. “But I won’t eat or drink anything until you call me from your in-laws landline number.” He disconnected the phone.
Rajani handed the phone back to Lalit. “I’m sorry Uncle but I cannot do this. I cannot have Papa’s health on my conscience or put you into trouble.”
“But Rani,” Kirti spoke gently, “how can you…?”
“Thank you Aunty,” Rajani was pale but dry-eyed, “but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if anything happened to Papa.”
“Nothing will happen to him. He’s just…”
“But what if something does happen? Please try and understand. I appreciate all that you’ve done for me. But I don’t want you to get into trouble with the police because of me.”
“That’s not even an issue Rani,” Lalit spoke gruffly, “all you have to do is tell the police that you weren’t kidnapped. That you came of your own free will.”
“But what if Papa does hang…” she trailed off unable to say it.
“He won’t.” Lalit was confident.
“But I cannot take the risk.” Rajani was adamant. “Please take me back home. Or drop me off near an auto stand. We aren’t too far away. I can go back home.”
“But Rani,” Kirti put an arm around her, “How can you bear to go back there?”
Rajani was quiet. “I don’t have a choice Aunty.”
“Come and stay with us.”
“I can’t Aunty. Mamma, Papa won’t like it.”
“But what about you? How will you stay there?”\
“I don’t matter Aunty. They do. Please Aunty. Please Uncle.” She made to open the door in the running car.
“Rani!” Kirti gasped horrified.
“Driver, take the car back.” Lalit said in clipped tones.
“Rani,” Kirti spoke as she was getting out of the car, “we will wait here for some time. If things are not…”
“Don’t worry Aunty, I’ll be fine. Thank you and sorry for the bother.”
“It’s no bother. But we are really worried about you.” Kirti reiterated. “We will wait for half an hour. Come down if there is any trouble.”
“Yes Aunty. Thank you Aunty.” Rajani said automatically.
“Look who’s back?” Rekha tittered as she opened the door but blocked her entry.
“Don’t let her enter,” Sunaina shrieked emerging from the kitchen. “Who does she think she is? Some Maharani? Enter and leave home as she pleases? She went out of her own free will but she can enter only if she apologizes….”
“Mami! Mami! Mami! Where were you? Why didn’t you take us with you? Take us to the park Mami!” The children came running from inside and clung to her.
Rekha turned and flounced away. Rajani entered the house and bent to hug the children to her. “Just give me two minutes,” she whispered through a raw choked throat. “Then we’ll play with your toys. It’s too dark and cold to go down. Go and take out your Lego set,” she gave Akash a push. Dipika toddled off after him.
“Hello Papa?” Rajani swiftly dialed her home number. “How are you Papa?”
“Rani!” Suryakant’s uttered in relief, “Thank you beta thank you. Everything will be fine don’t worry. I’m there for you. Nothing will happen to you. Just don’t say anything. Keep your mouth shut. Okay?”
“Okay Papa. Please take your BP medicines Papa.”
“Okay beta. I will.”
“Hello Aunty? I’m fine Aunty. Please carry on. Thank you.” Her feet dragged as she moved towards their room. She couldn’t get the image of a snarling infuriated Harsha out of her mind. How would she face him? How would she stay with him for the rest of her life? She quickly dropped the bag just inside the door and went off to the children who were incessantly calling her.
“Here,” Rekha handed her two plates loaded with food, “feed the children. Wash your hands first.” She turned away. “And make sure they finish everything.”
It was late by the time the children had been fed, cleaned, changed and put to sleep. Then it was time to serve dinner and hot rotis fresh off the gas to each individually. Except for Harsha who opted for rice. Lucky for him, fumed Rajani for otherwise she would have dumped a round steaming roti on his head. But she was low on anger and high on despair. Unable to stomach any food, she went to bed hungry and tossed and turned with high fever. She dozed off only in the wee hours of the morning and woke up late only to find10 missed calls from office.
Unable to deal with office and explanations, she turned over and went back to her world of crazy dreams and nightmares.
“Where the hell were you yesterday?” Aditi called her to her cabin when she tottered into office the next day.