Chapter 113: The Road Not Taken

Rajani bid a tearful to her mother and Shikha – it was a dreadful feeling to be going out in the world alone, even though her father was accompanying her for part of the journey. With each shake and rattle, the train relentlessly bore her away from all that was familiar and beloved. Rajani couldn’t help but feel terribly alone and and left to fend for herself in the big wide world.

At the Delhi airport she clung to her father. Distressed by Rajani’s hunted look and thinking she feared her first flight alone he reassured her. “Don’t worry dear, even children take the flight alone these days.”

“Papa,” Rajani raised anguished eyes attempting to make one last try but he deflected her.

“It is good training dear, what will your new husband think when he takes you to Paris for your honeymoon? You wouldn’t want to embarrass him by appearing like a complete village idiot would you?” he shook his head, “I didn’t want him to be ashamed of you that is why I am sending you back by flight,” he paused, “besides you only wanted to continue your studies,” he said in an injured tone, “I cannot afford flight tickets for both of us, what with two weddings coming up, otherwise I too would have…”

“No, no Papa,” guilt swamped Rajani, “I didn’t mean that, just that I am feeling a little lonely,” she choked.

“That’s why we are getting you married, so that you never have to feel lonely,” Suryakant patted her shoulder, “Your husband, your life partner, will always be by your side,” he left no opportunity to plug his sales pitch.

“I would rather have Mamma and Papa by my side.” Rajani shook her head mutinously and walked into the Delhi airport.

At the Bengaluru airport, Rajani was surprised to see Harry.

“You! What are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “I thought I would just come…” he trailed off lamely.

“Shikha called you didn’t she?”

“Yeah so? Actually she called me to let me know about her wedding and invite me as well.” He took her case and began walking.

“Where are we going?” Rajani hurried after him. “The cabs are that side.”

“I came in a car.”

“You have a car?”

“I borrowed it from a senior.Don’t worry I didn’t tell him why I needed it.” He added as her expression darkened. “Nor did he ask.”

“But why did you go into so much trouble? I could have easily taken a cab.”

“Shikha told me this was your first time you were traveling alone?”

“So? Big deal. Everyone has to travel for the first time some time?”

Harry unlocked the car and stowed her luggage in the boot.

“Sit.” He held open the door but Rajani dithered.

“You shouldn’t have…” she mumbled.

“Fine! If you want to take a cab, take it.” He slammed the door shut and walked to the boot.

Rajani sighed and slipped inside.

After a brief hesitation, Harry entered the car and started the engine.

Rajani’s phone rang. “Yes Papa, I got my luggage. Yes,” she coughed, “I got a cab. Okay bye Papa.”

“Why did you lie to your father?”

“What would you have me say? That my classmate came to pick me up? He would ask me a thousand questions, to which I have no answers to.”

“What questions?”

“The most obvious. Why did you come to pick me up? If you had got someone else along – Sameer, Raj, Girish, that would have been okay but alone…he is going to get ideas.”

“What ideas?”

“Exactly why did you come to the airport HK?”

“You are getting married and you didn’t even have the courtesy to inform me?”

“When was I supposed to inform you? While I was pleading and crying with my parents not to get me married to some unknown stranger?” Rajani was furious with Shikha. “And why would I inform you?”

“There is no reason to inform me?” Harry took his eyes off the road and bored into hers.

She looked away. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Harry stopped the car.

Rajani looked around with misgivings. “Why did you stop the car?”

“Let’s have a cup of tea.”

“I don’t want to have tea.” Rajani crossed her arms

“We can talk here if you like.” Harry wore a grim look.

“About what?”

“Please Rajani don’t be deliberately obtuse. I am trying to propose to you.”

Rajani’s mask of indifference dropped and she turned to stare at him open-mouthed.

He grinned self-consciously. “Don’t look so shocked! And don’t tell me you didn’t know I have a soft corner for you? Everyone in college knows it.”

Rajani went a deep shade of red. “I…I didn’t know.” She stammered. “I just thought it was some sort of joke.” She quavered feeling terribly embarrassed and awkward.

“A broken heart is no joke Rajani.” She looked up at Harry. Her heart thudded at the emotions in his eyes.

“Harry please,” her voice was a mere whisper.

“Please Rajani, marry me. Make me a happy man. I…I am crazy about you.”

The car closed in upon Rajani. She felt trapped. The world seemed to be determined to crush her, suffocate her… She felt faint. Her eyes glazed over.

“Rajani? Hey are you okay?” Harry went from the desperate lover to awkward sheepish guy to a very concerned person within the span of a few seconds. “Rajani!”

“Can we go please? I am tired. Papa will be calling soon.”

“Sure.” He withdrew and got back on road.

They traveled in complete silence. Harry cursed himself for being all sorts of a fool. But he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life wondering what if?

Rajani was blank and in a dazed haze. She stirred as they neared the college campus. “Please drop me near the bus stop.”

“Bus stop? But why? I’ll drop you at the hostel.”

“I think it’s better if I take the auto from here.”

Harry looked at Rajani and nodded stiffly. “Okay. I get it.”

He dropped her and zoomed off.

Rajani dutifully called up home once she was back in the hostel. “Yes Papa. I reached the hostel. Yes there was a bit of a traffic jam. No I am fine. Just tired. Yes I will eat something. Okay Papa. Bye.”

She threw her phone down ignoring Shikha’s messages. She was furious with Shikha for boxing her into this situation – and for not being here.

Her phone rang. Rajani glared at it balefully wishing she had the guts to disconnect it but she knew Shikha wouldn’t leave her alone until she sorted out whatever was bugging her. If needed she would go home and uggh…

“Yea? What?”

“What’s the matter with you Rajji? I have been half out of my mind with worry. I sent you so many messages.”

“About what?”

“Didn’t you read them?”

“No.”

“Why not? Are you upset?”

“What makes you think that?”

“You are talking funny. Is it because you are alone over there? I am sorry Rajji…”

“No. It’s because I am mad at you for telling Harry.”

“Oh. Telling Harry? But why?”

“Why did you have to tell him about me?”

“I didn’t intend to Rajji. Honest. It just sort of slipped out.”

“Why did you call him?”

“I just called to invite him for the wedding. He is my friend too.”

“As if he would come for the wedding. What was the rush in telling him?”

“I thought I owed him that much courtesy, as a friend. The cat would be out of the bag when you joined college and I didn’t. He would feel bad that I hadn’t told him…”

“So you went the extra mile and let my cat out of the bag as well.”

“I told you. It slipped out. Sorry? But I don’t know why you are making such a big fuss over it.”

“I am not making a fuss over it. Harry is.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning Harry came to the airport to receive me.”

“That was sweet of him.”

“And half way through he stopped the car and proposed to me.”

“YES!!!!” Shikha shrieked.

“Shikha ki bachchi!!!” Rajani screeched, “don’t tell me you put him up to this. I cannot believe it!” She was aghast. “Oh if only you were here!” She wished there was some way of getting to Shikha’s throat so that she could squeeze the life out of her.

Click here for Chapter 114: An Altercation
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