“Welcome back Rajani.” Avantika was the happiest. She had been shouldering the burden of proofreading along with Tanya and Aditi. “Here’s your welcome gift.” She dumped the pile of manuscripts on Rajani’s table.
“Oh so that’s why the grand welcome?” Rajani was hurt.
“Aww.” Avantika gave her a quick hug. “Actually genuinely happy to see you back. Though,” she scanned her critically, “nobody would say you just had a baby. I swear you are thinner than before.”
“Nonsense. I have put on so much weight. My clothes don’t fit.”
“Yeah right!” she lowered her voice. “Wait till you see Nidhi. She’s rounder than when she was pregnant.
“Oh has she joined too?”
“Technically. But she’s absent half the days. If it weren’t for Pakhi pitching in and taking her share of work as well Nidhi would be in deep trouble.”
“That’s really sweet of Pakhi.” Rajani smiled at Pakhi who winked. “Actually I have help.” Pakhi’s eyes were dancing mischievously.
“Help meaning?” They were puzzled.
They stared. “You mean he types…?”
“Yes,” Pakhi giggled, “he openly came and requested me to give him any stuff that needed to be typed. He would do it either in the office or mail it from home.”
Avantika and Pakhi laughed at Rajani’s expression. “Now if only you had someone for proofreading!”
“If only!” Echoed Rajani, wondering where was Riteish?
“But more important to have someone look after your baby. Who’s looking after her in your absence?” Tanya joined them. “Your MIL?”
Rajani nodded. “And my husband.”
“Husband!” Tanya was skeptical. “He takes care of Anisha?”
“Yes.” Rajani nodded. “He’s very good with her. Bathing, changing, dressing her up to singing her to sleep, he does everything.”
“Wow! That’s even better than having someone proofread!” They laughed.
“Yes. I wouldn’t have been able to join work otherwise.” Admitted Rajani. “Perhaps Nidhi doesn’t have any support?”
“Nidhi and no support!” they scoffed. “She’s a master manipulator. Besides, she’s been staying at her Mother’s place for a long time now. With her husband.”
“With her husband! Really?”
“Yes. Really. Perhaps we should take lessons from her. How to manage home and office.”
“At least I should!” Rajani said. “I can’t even manage my parents. By the way, where’s Riteish? And Aditi Ma’am? I haven’t seen either of them.”
“Ma’am is helping the Boss Lady with some project and is mostly tied up with her these days, making things very difficult at the office.” Tanya sighed. “Riteish is on leave. His wife had a miscarriage.”
“Oh. How awful.” Rajani was distressed.
Sorry to hear about your loss. Hope Shweta is fine. Rajani texted Riteish.
Thanks. She’s okay. How are you?
Good. Joined office today.
Work kept her busy until lunch break by which time Nidhi had made an appearance.
“You look so weak!” Nidhi exclaimed apparently gratified of her generously endowed proportions.
“Laurel and Hardy.” Avantika murmured in an aside to Rajani as she sat down beside Nidhi setting her off. She giggled and giggled and was hard put to explain to the others who stared at her questioningly. Avantika sat with a bland expression.
“I don’t know what you find so funny,” Nidhi sniffed. “This is not the time to worry about one’s figure. How will you feed your baby if you are so skinny?”
Rajani ducked her head.
“This is the worst part of joining work back so early after delivery. My breasts are so heavy and they ache so.” Nidhi complained. “Isn’t it so Rajani?”
Rajani shook her head. “I didn’t have…I couldn’t so…”
“Oh!” Nidhi frowned disapprovingly. “So you’ve been giving her top feed right from the beginning? That’s not good for the baby!”
Rajani reddened guiltily. “I know, but I had no choice, I dried up after a month and Anisha wasn’t growing well so…” she trailed off.
“Never mind it happens,” Tanya consoled.
“Wasn’t Riteish on leave today?” Avantika asked. “I just saw him enter the office.”
Flushing, Rajani looked around.
“His wife miscarried, what does he need to be there for?” Pakhi sniffed dismissively.
“Oh well,” Tanya served herself some curd, “his wife is likely to get more rest if he’s out of her hair. I would!” They laughed.
Riteish was in his seat when they came back from lunch. “Hello.” He said. “Congratulations.”
Rajani felt awful. “I’m sorry,” she said awkwardly.
He shrugged. “Are you well enough to come to office?” He looked at her critically.
“Don’t have much of a choice.” She grimaced. “How’s Shweta? You should have stayed with her.”
“She’s okay. She’s at her parents, so I,” he trailed off.
“Oh that’s okay then.” Rajani smiled relieved. “I’m sure everything will be fine next time.”
“You think?” Riteish played morosely with the image on his screen.
“What do you mean?” She asked but Tanya called her and there wasn’t much scope for any further talk.
But after work, he piled into her car along with the others who wanted a lift to the Metro station. But he didn’t get off at the station instead he joined her in the front seat, “I’ll tell you where to drop me.” But once they were on the road, he admitted. “I wanted to speak to you alone.”
“Why?” Rajani wasn’t sure if that was a good idea but she couldn’t help feeling a bit flattered.
“I think Shweta deliberately went for a miscarriage.”
“What!” Rajani was stunned. “No! Why would she do that?”
“We are constantly arguing and fighting. She wants to me to either separate out from my parents or divorce.”
“Oh.” Rajani looked at him in consternation. “I’m sorry. I thought things had been sorted between you.”
“Nothing’s sorted. She was furious when she got to know she was pregnant and accused me of trapping her.”
“But why would she think that?”
“She’s like that only. Not like you.”
What was he saying? Her heart thudded. “Nobody would deliberately go for an abortion.” Rajani said firmly. But she couldn’t help but think of Pakhi. But she too hadn’t wanted to but had been forced into it, thought Rajani. “Perhaps you should talk to her. Find out what her problem is. Perhaps she’s having some problem with…with her MIL.” Rajani said in a rush.
“MIL?” He shook his head. “My mother is the sweetest person on this earth. She couldn’t…”
“All mothers are the sweetest but somehow they aren’t their best as MILs.” She smiled apologetically. “Don’t take it personally. I don’t mean to comment on your mother but perhaps you should try to get to the root of the issue in a non-judgmental manner. Just talk to her…”
“I can’t talk to her or bear to be with her. How could she do this to our child?”
Rajani’s heart broke at the bleak sheen in his eyes. Doubt filled her. Perhaps Shweta was not a nice girl. Perhaps she did go for a deliberate abortion. But wasn’t that her choice? But shouldn’t she have talked to Riteish? He was so caring, gentle and accommodating. Why did all the good people have to get a raw deal?
“Don’t think like that!” she pleaded. “I’m sure she didn’t do it deliberately.” She repeated, refusing to accept any culpability. “And even if she did, she must have been pushed to it.” Like Pakhi. “Perhaps just a misunderstanding.” She said hurriedly. “A difference of perspective or interpretation. You must talk to her. Don’t shut her out.”
“I can’t!” He raised tortured eyes to her.
Poor Riteish. She wished there was something she could do to ease his obvious pain. “Give it some time and thought.” She advised. “And try not to think or feel so much.” Rajani felt awful. She sounded just like her mother. “Everything will be okay. Just have some patience.”
“I’ll get off here,” he pointed. “Thanks.” He opened the door and paused. “I’m glad you’re back.”