“Well is he coming?” Aditi asked with a steely note in her voice.
Rajani quailed. She knew her father. He wasn’t going to come. And neither would he let her go home. She was a fool to have thought otherwise. But she wasn’t up to another argument. “Yes Ma’am. Thank you Ma’am.”
She was exhausted and dizzy. She hadn’t slept the whole night and her head was throbbing. Anisha was calmer but that was equally worrying. She seemed to be alarmingly still and too quiet.
“Anisha!” she shook her but Anisha didn’t wake. Rajani panicked. “Ma’am!”
“She’s very hot.” Tanya muttered to Aditi.
“Put some cold compress.” Aditi advised. “Here take this.” She offered a pretty pink kerchief. “Put on the fan on full speed and…” Rajani’s phone rang, she moved away leaving Anisha in Tanya’s capable hands.
“Yes Daddyji?” she was cold and curt.
“Your father called me. It’s okay. You can come home.”
“What!” Rajani was incensed. “Of course I can come home! That’s my home. I will come only if Harsha apologizes for hitting me.”
“You provoked him.” Mr. Goel said evenly. “You apologize first. He will also apologize.” He put the phone down.
And what about putting my daughter’s life at risk? She screamed silently. But wasn’t she also doing the same? Playing with her daughter’s life? She was terribly ill. The doctor had warned she might get high fever. She might require hospitalization. Her heart sank to her feet. She really had no option but to go back to the very place she swore she never would. She would have to swallow this bitter pill for her daughter’s sake.
Anisha started thrashing and moaning. “Daddy. Daddy.”
Rajani panicked. “I better take her to the doctor.” She looked wildly around. “Where are her things? Okay Ma’am. Bye Ma’am. Sorry Ma’am.”
“Wait.” Commanded Aditi. She nodded to Tanya to take Anisha and made Rajani sit down. “Drink some water.” She forced a glass of water into her hands and then pulled out her tiffin. “Eat.”
Rajani gulped down the water but shook her head at the food.
“Be practical Rajani. You need to take care of your daughter. A fainting mother is of no use to her.” She paused. “And neither is a dead mother.”
Rajani looked at her dully, seeing another escape route clang shut. She began to eat – her first meal since lunch at the office yesterday.
“Rajani you have to stop reacting and start responding. Stop being emotional and start being rational.” Rajani looked uncomprehendingly at Aditi who continued to speak with barely concealed passion. “Either you walk out of that house like Pakhi did, or you shut up and bear the injustices heaped on your head silently. There is a saying, which I am sure you have heard of – when in water you cannot afford enmity with the crocodile. And your mother-in-law is the crocodile here.”
“So I should sit quietly as she roasts my daughter?” Rajani flared up.
“No!” Aditi’s eyes flashed. She leaned closer. “You aren’t listening to me. Walk out now or be a doormat forever.”
“How can I?” Rajani despaired. “My father doesn’t want me to.”
“What do you want?”
“I want out.”
“You will have to pay the price for it.”
“I can.” Rajani shook her head. “But how can I let Anisha pay the cost?”
Aditi straightened. “She already is.”
“You don’t understand Ma’am!”
“I do. Unfortunately I understand only too well.” Aditi choked up for a second before steadying. “But remember Rajani, no one can help you but you. You have to take the first step. Once you do that paths will automatically appear. Difficult no doubt but will lead to a better life. Take the easy path and you’ll just get deeper and deeper into an entangled impossible mess.”
Rajani sat with her head bowed. “Anisha needs to go to the hospital.”
“Riteish,” Aditi called on the intercom. “Come into my cabin.”
“Yes Ma’am.” He cast a concerned look at Rajani.
“Take my car and drop Rajani wherever she wants to go.”
“No worries Ma’am, I have my car, I’ll drop her.”
“Which hospital do you want to go to?” Riteish asked as he started the car.
“I want to go home.” Rajani clutched her daughter worriedly.
“If you want I can drop you to Chandigarh.” He looked at her. “You just have to say it. You’ll be there in four hours flat.”
Rajani looked at him with hope but it died as reality crept in. “No.” she shook her head. “Thanks. Ani isn’t well. I need to take care of her first.”
“Then you should go to the hospital. And then to the police station.”
“It’s not so simple Ritiesh.” Rajani flared up. “How can I manage alone at the hospital? Did you think about that? And the police station,” she shuddered, “I get the shivers just by thinking about one and to go alone… No. I can’t even think about it. Perhaps if Papa agrees.”
“Police stations are not all bad Rajani. If you like I can pull some strings, ask around, find someone who would take up your case.”
“Thanks Riteish. Maybe once Anisha is better.”
“But you need to lodge a complaint today. Show that black eye. Nobody would believe it later.”
“I have to take Anisha to the hospital. She hasn’t eaten anything since morning. And she has a raging fever.”
“Then you should go to the hospital. Call your husband…”
“I don’t want to call him!” Rajani burst out.
As if on cue, Anisha moaned and called out for her father.
Hot tears slid down her cheeks. Oh what a mess she had gotten herself and Ani into.
“Drop me at the hospital. I will text Harsha.” She hit upon a face saving compromise. “If he comes, well and good, otherwise will you drop me to Chandigarh tomorrow?”
“Sure. Call me anytime.” Riteish said. “I’ll park the car and wait with you until Harsha comes…”
“No!” Rajani remembered the ruckus from last time. “If he sees you, things will just worsen. Please just go…”
“But how will you manage alone? There’s admission, there’s…”
“I will manage,” Rajani insisted with a confidence she was far from feeling. “I’ll call up Papa otherwise. He will make sure somebody comes from home.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then I’ll go to the police station and lodge a complaint against my MIL for attempting to kill my daughter.”
“You should do that right away.”
“No! Please Riteish, just drop me will you, I can’t do this right now. But I will if they don’t rise to the occasion. Please Riteish,” Rajani pleaded as she saw him open his mouth to continue the argument, “I can’t fight you as well,” she sobbed into her daughter.
“Please don’t cry Rajani.” Riteish was horrified. “I’m not angry with you. And I am certainly not fighting with you. I just wish there was something I could do. Like bash up Harsha. Give him a bloody nose. Wring his neck.” His fingers curled around the steering wheel.
Rajani giggled through her tears. “That does sound nice.”
Riteish clicked his fingers. “I know! A couple of my classmates from college are officially goondas. I could call them up and have them bump off Harsha…”
Rajani shook her head. “Not Harsha, my MIL.”
Riteish tapped his fingers on the wheel. “That’s a bit of a problem.”
“My friends are a principled lot. They don’t do violence against women.”
“If I had known earlier I would have married one of them.” Rued Rajani.
“If I had known earlier, I would have married you.”
Confused and overburdened with information overload Rajani could only stare at him. What was he saying?
He met her glance, albeit a bit defensively. “I love you.”
“Daddy,” Anisha moaned and thrashed in her arms. Cuddling her, Rajani got down at the hospital.