A little while ago
“Deal or no deal,” snapped Jatin
Chotti shivered and trembled, “I am feeling sick, I need to go to the washroom,” she put a hand to her mouth and retched violently.
“Be my guest,” Jatin waved his hand grandly, “But relax koi escape route nahi hai,” he smirked, “its burglar proof,” he gloated.
Chotti dashed to the loo and locked herself in just in time. She clung to the basin as she threw up and emptied her stomach in great big heaves. Bile rose to her throat choking her, panic engulfed her, Daddy, Da, Mom where are you, I need you, she screamed silently but all she got as an answer was a mocking haunting deal or no deal?
Gasping for breath, she straightened and looked around the washroom. Jatin was right, there was no means of escape from here. She hysterically opened the cupboards and rifled amongst its contents, looking for a weapon, anything that might be of use but without much luck.
She took deep breaths and tried to calm herself – think Chotti think, panicking can only make things worse. Jatin holds all the Aces and is physically stronger than you but tere paas dimaag hai and Jatin is basically a fool, she reassured herself and remember brain over brawn, she gave herself a pep talk. She splashed cold water over her face and neck, think Chotti think, thande dimaag se soch, she told herself over and over again.
Jatin banged the door, ‘Come on hurry up, your Mom’s called thrice already; we don’t want to give her a heart attack do we? After all woh akeli hain, woh bhi hospital main, tsk tsk bechari, unka bhi toh socho, be reasonable darling, the sooner you agree to my deal, the sooner you can get back to her,” he said through the door.
Chotti wiped her face; she stiffened and her eyes hardened – nobody gave a Singh Raizada a raw deal and got away with it.
She smiled grimly to herself, took a deep breath and went out. Jatin was hovering suspiciously outside the door. Chotti tentatively smiled at him and said softly shyly, “Hi,” as she sank down on the nearest couch.
Jatin immediately relaxed and flopped down beside her, “That’s my girl!” he put his arm around her; Chotti shuddered mentally but bore it well enough, “Uff Jatin,” she pouted, “Tumne toh dara hi diya,” she slapped him playfully, “Itna hi mujhse pyaar hai toh pehle kuch bola kyon nahi,” she fluttered her lashes at him, “I too have ‘feelings’ for you,” she said delicately, “But I thought you weren’t interested, kabhi Rekha, kabhi Sneha, mera toh turn hi nahi aaya kabhi,” she pouted.
Jatin fell down on one knee in front of her, “Oh really?” he said eagerly.
Chotti nodded coyly averting her eyes becomingly.
“Damn it,” Jatin swore as he got to his feet and paced the floor agitatedly, “Damn it if only I had known! Ek toh hint dena chahiye tha na,” he raved, “I wouldn’t have made such an elaborate plan to…” he fell on his knee once again beside her and took her hand, “I am sorry,” he said earnestly, “I don’t want to hurt you, and least of all scare you off! Honest, I just want us to be friends,” he stressed, “Real special friends, completely and totally committed to each other,” clutched her hand and kissed it ardently, “I am but your slave,” he said ardently.
Chotti smiled at him, albeit a bit sadly, “I wonder,” her voice broke the tiniest bit, her lips trembled and she hurriedly turned her face away.
“Angel! My darling! Kya hua?” Jatin was instantly all concern, “Any problem? Tell me, main hoon na, main sab theek kar doonga,” he declared as he gently turned her around to face him.
Chotti sniffed and met his eyes reluctantly, “Nahi Jatin,” she said gently, “Koi kuch theek nahi kar sakta and when you will get to know, tum bhi,” she turned away and sniffled into her hanky.
“Nahi!” Jatin was up in a flash, “I am not like that,” he denied vehemently, “Tum batao,” he insisted.
Chotti heaved a deep sigh, “Nahi Jatin I am afraid you won’t want to speak with me ever again when you know…” she turned away once again.
“No! Nothing can change my feelings for you ever,” Jatin declared emphatically, “I promise, I don’t care about your past, no matter koi bhi ho, kuch bhi ho,” he promised recklessly, “It doesn’t matter, it’s the present and the future that matters, hai na?” he forced up her face, “Look at me my love, you can trust me, tell me kya baat hai?”
Chotti wiped her cheeks and smiled bravely at him, “You are really sweet Jatin but this will be a tough decision for anyone,” she paused and swallowed, “Waise kisi ko bhi nahi pata, only my parents know,” she gave a mirthless laugh, “Kehne ko 21st Century hai but people’s mentality remains the same,” she said bitterly, “science chahe kitna bhi progress kar le, but attitudes of people,” she shook her head in disgusted resignation.
Jatin put his hands on her shoulders and shook her slightly, “Ab batao bhi, itna suspense create karne ki kya zaroorat hai?” he said a bit impatiently.
Chotti took a deep breath and looked at him full in the face, “I have HIV AIDS,” she said baldly.
Jatin’s hands tightened on her shoulders and then immediately relaxed. The frozen almost comical look of horror on his face tested Chotti’s self-control to the ultimate – she was hard put to maintain her innocent, sad, brave yet long suffering expression as she rushed in with explanations, “Nahi Jatin nahi, don’t judge me harshly, meri koi galati nahi hai, I promise, it was the dental treatment that gave me this cursed infection,” she cried piteously, “Mera vishwas karo Jatin I am pure and untouched,” she sobbed jerkily into her hands (choking on hysterical giggles) and then pulling hysterically at his arms, “Jatin, you will be my special friend wont you. Tum toh mera saath doge na, batao na Jatin please?”
Jatin thrust her away and stood up, “AIDS!” he exclaimed as he ran an agitated hand through his hair.
“Haan,” Chotti nodded her head dolefully, “Life is so unfair!” she cried, “It was the clinic’s fault and I have to pay the price,” tears rolled down her cheeks, “Didn’t you notice I have been losing weight for the past few months,” he wore an arrested expression, “Haan that’s when I went in for tests, aaj bhi toh wahin jaa rahi hoon,” she put a hand out as if to reach him but she clenched her fists and dropped her hand dejectedly when he took a step back, “Don’t worry Jatin,” she said gently, “I am on treatment,” she shuddered, “Awful medicines feel so sick always dekha na how I had to rush to the washroom just now?” she sighed, “But the most difficult part has pretending that everything is hunky dory, lying and hiding from everybody, main toh batana chahthi thi but my parents told me not to, they were worried I would be ostracized by my friends.”
She drooped and heaved another deep sigh while she viewed his stiff visage from the corner of her eye; she brightened and stood up. She walked towards him and smiled at him tenderly, “Par ab tum aa gaye ho, my own special friend,” she cooed, “Ab sab theek ho jayega hai na,” she raised her hands to put around his neck but he jerked away.
Chotti faltered, “Kya hua? Surely you don’t think like the others?”
He turned away.
“Arre Jatin its not a big deal these days, medicines hai na, haan lifelong leni padegi, maybe some exacerbations once in a while, a hospitalization or two in a year, bas,” she faced him and reassured him, “Waise bhi if you are there I can face anything,” she said bravely smiling at him, “Haan thoda risk hota hai partner ke liye…”
Her phone rang once again – it was Khushi of course.
Chotti held her breath and surreptitiously crossed her fingers as Jatin stared at the phone.
“Here,” he abruptly thrust the phone into her hand, “Talk to her and come downstairs, I will drop you to the hospital,” he opened the door, he paused, “But if you speak about this,” he waved his hand, “I will tell everybody in school that you have AIDS,” he said threateningly before dashing off downstairs.
Chotti could have cried in relief but the ordeal wasn’t yet over – she steeled herself, “Yes Mom, just another ten to fifteen minutes, pucca promise,” she ran out and followed Jatin.
She sniffed and wiped her face as she slid in quietly beside Jatin who immediately gunned the car down the driveway at top speed.
Chotti clutched the handle and forbore to say anything; she too was in a hurry to get away, waise bhi she didn’t want to push her luck.
The trip was mercifully short and silent; Jatin brought the car to a screeching halt at the hospital and no sooner had Chotti got off the car, he raced off again without even waiting for her to shut the door.
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