Anya crashed out for a couple of hours and woke feeling fresh and rejuvenated. Wondering if Sherry was ok, she contemplated calling up his mum to find out, but she felt strangely shy; she settled for texting. A reassuring prompt message cheered her up and she focused on her still pending project, which took her almost 5 hours to complete, with finishing touches still awaited. She straightened with a sigh and eased out the kinks in her back as she surveyed her handiwork with satisfaction.
She could now visit Sherry with a clear conscience; her heart fluttered with excitement as she dressed with care.
At the hospital, Sherry had been glad to see his mother and she had shed a few quiet tears in the washroom – how brutally and mercilessly they had beaten her little baby; if only she could catch them, she would show them she thought rather fiercely. Controlling herself, she walked composedly to her son and set about making life comfortable for him. She got him sponged and freshened up; she called up her cook who sent homecooked kichdi through the driver, which was heavenly in comparison to the hospital food. He managed to catch up on his sleep and later, as the news spread, his friends and colleagues dropped in with their good wishes.
He laughed and joked with them although his eyes were frequently and expectantly drawn to the door, would she come, would she not? Of course she would come! But when dammit?
The door swung open once more, desultorily almost involuntarily and without much hope Sherry automatically looked towards the door.
Sherry stared at her, stunned.
Anya had taken extra pains with her appearance, especially her attire. She was mindful of the fact that she looked very young; in fact Sherry wasn’t the only one to think of her as a kid, she was used to exclamations of wonder when people got to know she was in college. And to counter it she had built up her own defense to guard against it. She had observed that she looked older and more mature in Indian dresses as she did with her hair tied up. So today, she dug her out her favorite salwar-suit of the latest trend and pinned up her short hair; she even went for some light make up as well as accessories and had been satisfied with her appearance. Today no one could accuse her of being a kid, not Sherry and not his mother – the one person she didn’t want to convey the wrong impression to (hence her reluctance to meet Sunita under adverse circumstances –one where she couldn’t deny she looked like a baby- after all first impressions are last impressions right?)
Anya hesitantly pushed open the door with her shoulder as her hands were occupied with flowers and fruits just as a couple were leaving Sherry’s room. Her eyes fell on Sherry reclining on the bed facing the door. He looked pale and exhausted, pain lines streaking his face; her heart went out to him, “Sherry,” she moved forward and put the flowers and fruits on a convenient window ledge, “Not feeling good?” she asked worriedly.
“Never better,” he smiled faintly, his eyes glued to her; today she looked every inch the young lady she was, he admitted, a beautiful one at that – strange how clothes made such a difference!
Just then Sunita emerged from the washroom where she had presumably been washing an apple as she carrying one.
Sherry beckoned her, “Ma, this is Anya, my guardian angel,” he introduced Anya with a sense of pride and a hint of possessiveness while Anya blushed.
Sunita hurriedly put down the apple, “Oh this is Anya! How lovely to finally meet you,” Anya smiled and nodded her head, feeling rather embarrassed and tongue-tied, she held out her hand, “Hello Ma…”, she coughed, “Maam.”
Ignoring her outstretched hand, Sunita instantly put her arms around her and enveloped her in a warm hug, “Thank you Anya! You indeed are a guardian angel, I shudder to think what would have happened but for your timely help. And Sherry tells me you were there the whole night taking care of him,” she turned to look at Sherry and then looked back at Anya ruefully, “Must have been a nightmare! Sheru is really a terrible patient,” she shook her head.
Feeling heady with relief at Sunita’s warm greeting (for some reason Anya had been very nervous about meeting Sherry’s mom, suppose she didn’t like her?) and down to earth nature, a giggle escaped her (putting to rest all illusions about her being a sophisticated lady), “Sheruuuu!” her eyes twinkled merrily as she laughed at Sherry.
He rolled his eyes and grimaced, “Maaaa,” he complained, “Kitni baar kaha hai, don’t call me that! Now I will never hear the end of it,” he fussed and grumbled – but without much heat, he was busy drinking in a sight for sore eyes. He too was pleased at the way his mother and Anya seemed to hit it off right from the beginning even if it was at his cost!
“Haan Sheru,” Sunita laughed and affectionately ruffled his hair, “Maaa!” he protested and moved his head, “Please I am not a baby!”
Anya clapped her hands in glee, “Oh that’s a good one coming from you! Maam you should have seen him last night, ‘Ma, maa, maaaa,’ he kept moaning and calling the whole night, remember Sheruuu?” she mocked him.
He tightened his lips and rolled his eyes. “Yes Anya,” Sunita said, “He always does that whenever he is ill, I thought once Sheru grew up he would stop all this thrashing and moaning whilst he was ill, but nahi, it still continues as before and because he is so big in size it is really difficult to handle him, I wonder how you managed,” she marveled.
Anya shrugged embarrassed, “Oh it wasn’t that bad,” she made light of that terribly long and difficult night, “All in all considering everything, the pain the fever, Sheru was a very good boy,” she patted his cheek gently.
“Anya!” he protested, “Et tu?”
“Of course me too, in fact me first!” she laughed, “Pata hai Maam kitna bore kiya hai Sherry, oops I mean Sheru ne, he keeps calling me a kid,” she held out her dress, “Tell me Maam do I really look like a kid?”
Sunita solemnly shook her head and said in all seriousness, “No not at all, I wonder why he thinks of you as a kid, I think you look every inch the elegant and sophisticated lady that you are.”
Anya preened and basked in the high praise, “Thank you maam,” then in a burst of familiarity and over-confidence, she blurted out, “I got so sick of his constant taunts of kid, I proved once and for all I am not a kid right Sherry?” she boasted unmindfully and turned triumphantly to him.
Her eyes widened in shock; her hand flew to her mouth her face a beetroot red as Sherry openly laughed at her as they both recollected the way she had demonstrated she was not a kid.
More alert to the pitfalls of her impulsive boast, Sherry noted his mother’s slightly puzzled expression and the obvious question forming on her lips, he started coughing; distracted she hurried to give him water while Anya busied herself with unpacking the fruits, straightening the bouquet, till her color subsided.
Sunita settled Sherry back and said kindly, “Haan Anya beta, what were you saying?”
The color flared up again and Anya wished the earth would open and swallow her up, ‘me and my big mouth’ she berated herself.
Feeling waves of laughter bubbling up (crazy woman – what the hell was she thinking – or not thinking – and dying to tease her, pull her leg…no actually pull her into his arms so that she could hide her blushes in his arms or even better demonstrate how she proved for once and for all that she was not a kid) yet Sherry melted at Anya’s obvious predicament, “Maa,” he called, “Werent you going to give me an apple? Besides I still think Sheru is too childish for me, you really should start calling me Sharath,” he drew their attention back to the original topic.
“Haan haan,” Sunita handing him a sliver of apple and another to Anya, “Or how about if I call you Sher Khan?” she laughed.
Anya perked up as her nerves steadied, “Sher Khan?”
“Maaa!” groaned Sherry, “Did you have to say that! Whose side are you on?” he grumbled, secretly glad to see Anya back on terra firma – but he had loved her ludicrous expression as she had realized in horror what exactly she had been about to reveal – crazy woman – dammit wasn’t there any way he could give her a hug?
“Haan Sher Khan,” laughed Sunita unheedingly, “Waise toh his sister had accorded him the nickname ‘Sheru’ but then when he was a bit older he didn’t approve of it,” she looked at him affectionately, “And then he was about 5-6 years old, he insisted I call him Sher Khan, after the villain of Jungle Book!”
“Oh so he idolizes villains is it?” Anya raised her eyebrow as she looked at Sherry.
“No, no it isn’t like that Anya,” Sunita rushed to defend her son, “Actually he loves animals especially tigers and he justified Sher Khan’s villainy saying that people tortured and killed animals and that is why he was like that,” Anya nodded her head wisely solemnly; but at the first opportunity, the moment Sunita was distracted she quickly leaned forward to Sherry on the pretext of straightening his pillow and coochie-cooed, “olle baba…Mama ka Shellu,” waggling her eyes mischievously at him.
Sherry’s eyes promised just retribution later for there wasn’t time for more as more of his friends trickled in. Anya quietly slid to the background but Sherry insisted on introducing her to everyone as his ‘guardian angel’; embarrassed with all the attention and praise being showered on her, she huddled beside Sunita, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.
There was the predictable argument as his friends offered to stay the night while Sunita went home; but Sunita would have none of it, “Nahi nahi, thank you, I will manage him,” she laughed, “He is a terrible patient you know, I really wonder how Anya managed!” she marveled.
“With great difficulty Maam, with great difficulty,” Anya corroborated in long suffering tones as she shuddered dramatically, “Truly aap hi manage kar sakte ho,” she shot a look at him and mimed ‘mehmeh mehhh’ but she did desist from saying it aloud as he was already looking very embarrassed, he blinked his thanks.
She blushed and slid into the shadows.
A little while later, the Sister came and shooed away all the guests, recognizing Anya as the vixen from the night before let her be, after a brief surprised glance at her sudden maturity – psst Anya could have sworn, she wore an knowing smirk as she left the room with a final glance at her – Anya pulled a face and kicked off her heels.
She curled up on the chair and said, “Maam, I am staying here, you can come in the morning,” she declared firmly.
Sunita hurried forward, “Nahi nahi beta, I am fine, you carry on, waise bhi you have college and what about the project you were supposed to submit, Sherry was telling me that is why you hadn’t gone home this weekend?”
Anya reluctantly nodded and looked at her watch, “Achha theek hai, its just 6 pm, you can go out for some time, I can wait on his lordship till 10 pm,” she offered, “Maybe you need to go home or something?”
After some haggling and bargaining, Sunita went home and promised to be back soon with some hot home-cooked food for both of them.
There was quiet companionable silence for a while, “Hey you ok ki…,” Sherry asked softly.
Anya looked up from her contemplation of the floor, “Yeah sure,” she smiled, “I thought you would like to rest,” she shrugged and said slyly, “Didn’t want to eat your head with my childish patter.”
Sherry looked at her ruefully and shook his head, “You are a pest you know that?”
Anya nodded her head, quite proudly, “Yup! And I will have you know I am an expert at wearing down resistance; tried and tested on the best of the best,” she declared challengingly, “You know when I was just six years of age, I made the great Arnav Singh Raizada take me to the zoo, can you imagine?” she was floored by her own capabilities, “I don’t think even his kids have had that honor, at least not in India,” she boasted.
“Lo phir shuru ho gayi ASR ka pankha,” Sherry mocked her and rolled his eyes.
Anya fired up, “What do you mean?” she started up from her seat hands, on her hips, just then the Sister entered.
She took his temperature and blood pressure; she handed Anya some tablets along with instructions, a couple now and a couple after dinner, duty over she waddled away to the next patient.
Anya helped him sit up and assisted him in the rather complex task of taking his tablets (until now he was on injectables). You see he couldn’t sit up properly because one leg was in a cast and the other had gone to sleep. He squirmed and moaned whilst Anya nursed back sensation and then he had pins and needles. And of course only one of his hands was functional and that too partially. Predictably he choked on the medicines and finally drowned in her eyes.
Blood gushing in her ears, Anya felt as if she were soaring, as if she had jumped off a cliff without a safety harness – yet she was giddy with delight and she never wanted this free fall to ever end knowing that there was only one place she could end up – in his heart.
Click here for Chapter 305