Torn between following her heart and doing the right thing Rajani blinked to clear her vision. She didn’t need this stress. Not now. She couldn’t deal with this as well, she thought with rising panic and hysteria. Riteish offered a safe haven, a sanctuary, of which she could only dream. She was a fool to reject him. Wasn’t she guilty of doing to Riteish what her parents were doing to her? Force him to adjust and compromise? But was it right for her to break up a marriage? What did that make her – the other woman? Like Nidhi. No! This was different. Shweta was the culprit here. She was the one who was having an affair. Poor Riteish. He was so sweet, simple and caring. Any woman would be lucky to have him. But he chose her. And what had she done? Pushed him away.
Restless and disturbed, Rajani tossed and turned the whole night despite sleeping pills. Snatches of sleep were filled with dreams of Riteish and her. She denied them and pushed them away. She hated that Riteish was upset. She wished there was something she could do to make things easier for him. Should she wish for things to be okay between Riteish and Shweta? Or take the final step? Would she be better for him? Would he be good to Ani? Would Ani accept Riteish instead of her father? Would Harsha let them go?
Her heart sank. Harsha would never let her go. At least not easily.
In a moment of madness after Ani’s brush with death, Rajani had threatened to walk out file for divorce, but Harsha had laughed at her face. “Where will you go? To your parents?” He sneered. “They didn’t even come to see how Anisha is! This is how much they care for their granddaughter. And you think it is so easy to get divorce? To get custody? You file a case and I will prove in court that you are a drug addict and incompetent to take care of my daughter.”
“You can’t do that!” Rajani cried hoarsely.
“Why can’t I? Don’t forget Kuldeep is a lawyer in the Supreme Court. Besides you’re the one who takes sleeping pills. Doesn’t that make you an addict?”
“No! That doesn’t make me an addict.” Rajani cried.
“Scream and shout as much as you like. But the fact is you’ve got no backing, and no leg to stand on.” He shrugged. “You want to leave, leave, but you’re not taking Anisha. She doesn’t much care for you anyway.” He threw the unkindest cut of all that drove all the fight out of her. Just when she had begun to make peace with her rotten fate, Riteish had dropped his bombshell. Or was it a ray of hope?
Her head throbbed.
Nothing made sense.
If only she could go to sleep and never wake up.
“Rajani,” Tanya called, “Aditi Ma’am is calling you.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Rajani presented herself with a sense of foreboding. Now what? Some major oversight?
“Shut the door.” Rajani’s heart sank. “Sit down.” Rajani perched herself nervously at the edge of the seat. “Yes Ma’am?”
Aditi leaned back in her chair. She drummed her fingers on the table. She got up and went to the window.
“Did you know my office window overlooks the parking?” Puzzled, Rajani frowned. “I rarely look out of the window, but yesterday I did.”
There was a long silence until Aditi turned look at Rajani.
“I…I…He just wanted a lift.” Rajani floundered weakly. “We weren’t…I mean he just wanted to share…discuss about some…some personal issues…”
“Did I ask you anything?”
Rajani flushed and then paled. She sat there guiltily pleated the edges of her dupatta.
Aditi came back to her seat. “I know it is none of my business but you girls are such fools. And you don’t even have parents on your side.”
Rajani bent her head wishing she could disappear.
Aditi sighed. “Anyway I couldn’t stop myself from giving an unsolicited piece of advice. Don’t jump into something on the rebound.”
Rajani jerked up to stare at Aditi. “You are having marital issues, you are emotionally fragile and disturbed. Your daughter isn’t well. Your parents aren’t supportive. Do you think this is the best time for an affair?”
That sounded so sleazy. Rajani’s skin crawled. “I’m not looking for an affair!” she flared up. “We just wanted to talk, share our troubles…”
“And that’s how office affairs begin.”
“Despite their rough and tough exterior, men are emotionally labile and all their manly protective instincts come very quickly to the fore.” Aditi said in a dispassionate tone. “They jump into save damsels in distress without any planning or vision, leaving out essential details. What would be consequences? What would my parents say? What about the fact that I am married? What about Anisha? Where’s her place in all this? None of this enters their consciousness. They only focus on the now, the want the need. They don’t care about the future and even if they do, they have a hazy idea that like all things the future will take care of itself.” Aditi gave a mirthless laugh. “And if it doesn’t, well he has the luxury of leaving it for her to manage or bear the brunt of it.”
Aditi raised a hand. “I’m not asking you to justify your actions to me. I felt compelled to warn you since you are not in the right state of mind to take an informed decision.” Aditi’s held Rajani’s eyes with her own. “Think before you leap. Don’t get blown away by the heat or emotions of the moment.”
Rajani reddened as last night’s dream flooded her consciousness. Journey up the stairs in his arms had ended differently, quite differently. And the memory of it had brought warmth to her cheeks and heart. Riteish’ confession had been a massive boost to her ego and confidence. After years of surmising she wasn’t good enough to attract her own husband, Riteish’ warm glint as they rested on her was more than pleasant. But did that mean she wanted an affair? Isn’t that what her dream signified? Isn’t that what Papa had advised. But what did Aditi Ma’am mean – the want the need. Is that what he wanted from her? Did he think she was easy prey? Be willing to fall into his arms? And what about Anisha? Would he and his family accept her when her own grandparents weren’t willing to? She went hot and cold.
“We weren’t doing anything…” Rajani attempted to defend herself. But Aditi wasn’t interested. “Like I said, you don’t owe me any explanation and neither do I expect one. But I just wanted to give you a reality check away from jumping hormones.”
Aditi gave a humorless smile at Rajani’s hunted expression. “You haven’t done anything and yet you look so guilty. Some people,” she paused before continuing smoothly, “Revel in the highs of playing with danger. They have the gumption to bluff their way through tricky.” Aditi’s eyes bore into hers. “I don’t think you are one of them are you? What if someone from your family had seen you both together? What if they accused you of having an affair?” Aditi sighed and relented. “That’s it. End of lecture. Do what you think is right and suits you. But for heaven’s sake think, take an informed decision, just don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire.” She exhorted.
Rajani cleared her throat. “I’m not,” she asserted eager to disabuse Aditi of her false notions. “I asked Riteish to talk to Shweta first. I don’t want to be the one to break up a marriage.”
Aditi smiled grimly to herself. She hadn’t overreacted or misread the situation.
Rajani took out her angst on the hapless Riteish. She chewed his head up when he suggested that they meet later in the evening. And she was firm in her decision. “Did you talk to Shweta?”
“There was no scope!” he defended himself. “She refused to listen to me and went off to her maternal home.”
Rajani looked at him skeptically. “But something must have happened for her to get so angry and leave home?”
“Nothing! I was just trying to talk to her, calm her down and then….”
“Then what?” Rajani sensed something.
“Nothing. She flew into a rage, broke a vase and walked out.”
“But why would she do that for no rhyme or reason?” She probed.
“But still, something must have happened?”
“She’s like that only,” Riteish dismissed. “Making a mountain of a molehill.”
“What molehill?” Rajani insisted.
“Just a tiny slip of tongue.”
“Slip of tongue?”
“While talking to her I addressed her as Rajani instead of Shweta.”
Rajani could have smashed his head into the computer. Fumes of rage engulfed her. Even Harsha hadn’t made her so mad. Ever. Not even when he had hit her. It had sobered her up. But Riteish – he took the cake. Her phone rang. It was Harsha.
“Ani?” She asked panic stricken.
“She’s fine. Don’t forget to take leave for two days.” Harsha said peremptorily
“Leave?” Puzzled Rajani questioned.
“Are you this dumb or do you do it deliberately to annoy me?” He snapped.
“I don’t know what you are talking about?”
“Radha’s wedding. Remember? I told you weeks ago.”
Damn she had completely forgotten about it. “But…but how can we go? Ani’s not well. I just took so many leaves…”
“She’s fine. I’ll be there to take care of her. You just come along and smile at everyone. Is that too much to ask?”
“Fine. Do as you wish. I’m taking Anisha along.” Harsha put down the phone.
“Problem?” Riteish queried with a concerned look.
“Not as much as you,” she snapped and yet regretted it when he flinched. She would go. It would give her some space from it all. Some time to think and sort out things in her head. Perhaps then she could sit next to Riteish without wanting to do violence to him. “I have to go for a wedding. By the time I come back, you better have sorted out this…this slip of tongue,” she warned.