Again he stepped in front of her. “Hey Anjie, why are you so upset? Talk to me! Just because I did a little background check? I am sure your brother would have done a full background check on not only Anya and me but also my whole family. Hey, maybe he could help me trace my family! Besides ‘CSR’ came to check out Anya didn’t he?”
Anjali stared at him struck. True, Chotte had come to check out Anya and probably had had investigated them as well. Men! she shook her head and started walking, not feeling so bad. Besides he was right, as a father he had every right and indeed responsibility to look out for Anya.
“That cup of coffee?” he prodded gently.
She shook her head and said slowly, “I would like to but not now. May be sometime later?”
Kshitij bowed, “As you wish maam, but can we fix a date? I am rather busy you see.”
Anjali shook her head, “Kshitij tum bhi na.”
Kshitij was offended, “What tum bhi na!, date please.” he dug out an imaginary diary from his back pocket and flicked a pencil from behind his ear and stood waiting.
Anjali laughed and after a bit of hesitation said, “Ask me four, no five weeks from today.”
Kshitij licked his imaginary pencil and diligently noted it down, “Great, it’s a da…”
He raised his eyes and looked at her guiltily, as expected she was glaring at him.
“Whaat?” he said innocently, “I was saying it’s a deal, why? what did you think?” His eyes winkled mischievously.
A reluctant smile appeared in the corner of her eyes.
He opened the car door and helped her in.
He shut the door of the car and turned to leave.
Anjali looked at him shyly and asked, “Aren’t you going to tell me what you found?”
Kshitij opened his mouth, hesitated for a fraction of a second and said, “I found that Anya is an excellent judge of people.” he was gone with a wave.
She stared after him, half relieved, half disappointed.
The days became longer and hotter and the park dustier. Yet Anjali continued to go to the park, to meet Anya and even though she wouldn’t admit, Kshitij. As the bond between Anya and Anjie grew, without realizing it Anjali started looking forward to meeting Kshitij as well. The days he didn’t turn up, she felt restless and agitated. Then she would berate herself and try not wait for him the next day; it would do no one to any good to become so dependent on two people who were not family. She suddenly felt bereft and lonely.
After that initial burst of over-familiarity Kshitij had gone back to being his casual friendly self (though he stuck to calling her Anjie) and after a lot of thought, agonizing and analysis, Anjali had come to the conclusion he had used those terms of endearments only to tease her out of her dumps. He knew that if he continued in that vein, it would ruffle her feathers enough to jolt her out of her emotionally overwrought state. She shook her head; it figured; after all he was a psychiatrist.
Actually Anjali was only partly right; initially the endearment had slipped out naturally; Anjali had withdrawn from him the moment she had registered his slip but he didn’t want to disturb her just yet in this fragile state of mind. Though for how long he would be able to maintain his distance he himself was not too sure. He had come to the park only to apologize for his boorish behavior; but he had not expected to fall headlong into love with Anjali. He went off dazed and astonished; he was thirty plus not some callow youth! And love at first sight! Pshaw! No, not first sight, he consoled himself.
To cure himself, he had deliberately set out to make inquiries about the Raizadas which had been postponed for some reason or the other. He was looking out for Anya’s interest he convinced himself.
When the whole sordid story did come to light, instead of being cured, he was even more smitten. His heart went out to her. Here was somebody whom life had dealt the cruelest of blows and yet she had arisen from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix and carved out a niche for herself. He was well and truly lost and loving it too.
But he was in a fix, despite his best intentions to go slow, he had been unable to help himself when he saw her crying and hence the slip up; but rather than cover up, Kshitij decided to take the bull by its horns and persist in using it to distract and divert Anjali as he thought anger was better for her than sorrow. But when she later asked him what he ‘found’, he decided to back off rather than risk losing her completely.
Anjie hadn’t come to the park for 2 whole days and Anya was upset; she had called her up but her phone was switched off as well. She wanted to go and meet her at home. Kshitij tried to pacify the unhappy girl and promised to make inquiries if she didn’t turn up the next day.
He looked thoughtfully at the calendar; it was exactly 4 weeks and 2 days since…
Anya was thrilled to see Anjali already waiting at the park. She chattered away merrily scolding, asking, narrating school and other events of her happening life. Anjali felt lulled and soothed by her innocent ramblings. A large shadow fell on them; Anya jumped up, it was Kshitij. He hugged his little girl while his eyes searched Anjali’s face.
Anjali smiled perfunctorily and looked away. As was her custom, Anya ran to the swings for one last ride before going home with her father. Kshitij sat down beside her and looked at her bent head and asked softly, “You okay?”
She nodded without looking at him.
“What happened?” he prodded gently.
She shook her head, still refusing to look at him.
He sighed, “Divorce finalized?”
Anjali’s head jerked up and she stared at him astonished, “How do you know?”
He shrugged, “I just know. Besides, it is exactly 4 weeks and 3 days since you promised to come with me for a cup of coffee.” He raised his hands, “OK OK, let me re-phrase that, another 4 days before I could again request you to come for a cup of coffee with me.”
Anjali shook her head resignedly, “Are you never serious?”
“Oh but I am serious; in fact I dont remember the last time I was this serious.”
Anjali looked away, scorched by the intensity of his gaze
“I am sorry,” said Kshitij softly, “Was it very painful?”
Anjali swallowed and nodded her head, “Yes it was very painful. I thought my wounds had healed, thanks to my family and Anya, and”, she hesitated and continued, “but seeing him again, all my wounds were laid bare, raw, bleeding and fresh as if it had happened just yesterday. The betrayal, the senseless of it all, my baby lost forever, all this hit me and pulled me down. I cried for two whole days and finally I saw the pain in eyes of my loved ones, I forced myself to go to office and then waited for…. Anya to come and set things right. But yes, there were some good things as well. I finally truly appreciated the wonderful family that I have and when I met…Shyam again, there was no feeling of attachment or longing, just a feeling of regret that things had turned out and..relief…relief that I wouldn’t have to see him again. And for the first time, I also thanked God for taking away my baby, for sparing my baby the anguish and pain of knowing that she had such an evil person as her father.” Her voice broke and tears slid down her cheeks, but she brushed them away fiercely and sat up straight and smiled wanly and said, “So doctor sahab do you charge by the hour or by the session?”
Kshitij looked at her unfathomably and for an instant, just the tiniest flicker of an instant Anjali felt as if he had embraced her, but then just as quickly the illusion was dispelled as he pulled up his collar, struck up a pose and said, “Oh my charges are too steep for you Maam!”
Anjali gave him a watery smile.
“Besides, my ethics don’t allow me to charge my friends,” he completed softly.
She nodded, swallowed and mouthed, “Thank you.”
Anjali struggled long and hard but relentlessly Shyam pushed her towards the edge of the cliff, all the while snarling and laughing evilly and then with a big push threw her over the edge. She screamed soundlessly as she fell, and fell and fell until she landed on a soft bed of roses occupied by a huge cuddly teddy bear; Anya came running, laughing and calling out ‘Mommy Mommy’.
Anjali woke with a start.
Click here for Chapter 25