Links to the previous parts are here:
Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose
Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise
Chapter 3: A Lovely Story
Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story
Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner
Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat
Chapter 7: To Hell and Back
Chapter 8: A tête-à-tête
Chapter 9: The Ugly Truth
Chapter 10: Unanswered Questions
Lovely spent a sleepless night reliving the horrors, which she had pushed away to the dark recesses of her mind. She was glad when it was morning and she could forcibly pull on the mask of normalcy and go back to work her still raw and bleeding wounds tucked firmly away out of sight – even her own.
The day dragged.
There was no sign of Sonu, not on phone or outside her office.
Just as well she thought as she reluctantly trudged back home and as expected.
But at home she was taken aback to see Sonu along with everybody else, including Ghasitaram. The animated discussion gave way to silence at her entry. Lovely stood at the doorway defiant and questioning. Ghasitaram walked up to her and met her eyes for the briefest moments before looking away.
He drew a deep breath and said. “What happened wasn’t right.”
Her lips twisted. “You mean I should have kept my mouth shut.” She cast Sonu a sneer. “I told you he wouldn’t believe me.”
“It’s not that.” Ghasitaram spoke before Sonu could.
“You believe me?” She was skeptical.
“When Sonu told me, I…I confess I didn’t. But…but like he said why would you say such a thing. So I confronted Lallan.”
“He admitted that he…?”
Lovely flashed Sonu another accusing glare and walked away.
“But I saw guilt written on his face.” Lovely halted. “He is alive only because he is bedridden.” She turned around. “I am sorry beta.”
“Why are you apologizing?” She choked.
“Because he is,” Ghasitaram paused, “he was my friend. I feel responsible. But forgive him beta, he is not right in his mind. He is sick. Forgive him and let yourself heal.”
“It’s not just he who hurt me,” Lovely managed to say.
A hushed murmur ran through the room. “Who…?”
“Everyone,” she pointed an accusing finger to her family, “Dadi, Chacha, Chachi. They knew everything but said nothing. Did nothing.” Her voice became stronger. “Instead they told me to keep quiet, behaved as if it was my fault. That it would be better if I just killed myself out of shame and disgust and spare them the bother of having me on their conscience. What kind of society do we live in? Why must the victim keep quiet? Why is the victim shamed?”
Only questions and no answers…
“Why are questions always raised about the girl’s character, her intentions? Despite knowing everything why do they risk their own daughters’ future? Why is everybody so hell bent upon hiding the reality? Why is everyone so afraid of speaking the truth? When will the focus shift from the victim to the rapist?”
A thick silence pervaded the room.
She put a hand to her throat. “I feel suffocated, strangulated because of this enforced silence and the hypocritical lives that we have to live and hold up the image of a perfect family man.”
Eyes burning she faced Sonu. “If a goonda comes and slashes at you, breaks your leg, do you keep quiet?” Her eyes scorched Titu. “Do you hide your face in shame? No! Then why are we forced to do so? Why? Why? Why?” She screamed but again there were no answers.
She shouldered past the gathered crowd and ran to her room. She locked and bolted herself in.
The next day after work, she found Sonu waiting for her outside the bank. She froze him with a blank stare and disappeared into a waiting auto before he could move. But he was waiting for her again the next day and managed to catch her as she got into the auto but she urged the driver to speed away. After five days, Lovely gave in and took the bull by its horns.
“Yes?” she was cold. “What do you want?”
“I…I want to talk to you.”
She crossed her arms. “About what?”
“Things.” He said vaguely. “Many things.”
“I don’t think we have anything more to talk about.”
“You are wrong!” he jumped in. “I have a lot to say.” He looked around. “Please can we go somewhere private?” He quailed at the expression on her face. “A public place,” he clarified. “Like the mall?”
Lovely shook her head resignedly. He really was like a dog with a bone.
“So? What’s the problem?” Lovely asked the moment they were seated in a quiet little café at the nearest mall.
Sonu looked at her with troubled eyes. “I…I just…”
Lovely unbent. “It’s okay Sonu. It’s not your fault. You don’t have to feel guilty and over-correct for someone else’s crime. I am fine.” She swallowed and looked away. “It’s just that I have this huge wound inside of me. It doesn’t hurt if I don’t poke or prod it. But even the slightest of touches inflames it and all the pus comes gushing forth proving again that it hasn’t healed and probably never will. But,” she inhaled sharply, “I repeat it’s not your fault. So don’t feel obliged to explain, justify or even,” her voice wavered, “do a repeat telecast of your avowals of love and what not. Don’t worry I won’t hold you to it.” She smiled mirthlessly. “You can walk away and forget that we ever met.”
He shook his head. “But I can’t forget you.”
“You can and will. Just give it time.” She advised. “Trust me.”
“You can. I can’t and…and I won’t.”
“Oh please Sonu! Don’t be the drama king.” She flared up. “Don’t be so childish and stubborn. You don’t know what you are saying.”
“I know perfectly well what I am saying, if you will let me speak.” He held her eyes. “I love you and I want to marry you.”
“Even after all this?” She looked at him with shock.
“How does that change anything? One evil man hurt you wounded you and I am terribly sorry for that, but that doesn’t change my feelings for you. And why are you so surprised? Isn’t that your angst? Why blame the victim? I don’t think any of this was your fault and so it doesn’t change my feelings. If anything I love you more for having overcome this and come back to save your sister.”
“Don’t try to play the hero Sonu,” Lovely was shaking. “It will backfire on you. The novelty will wear off and…and…and besides I can’t I can’t stomach the thought of,” she broke off.
Sonu draped his jacket over her shoulders.
“Let’s have some coffee or would you prefer tea? You’ll feel better. And they make absolutely delicious tortillas. Have you tried them?”
She didn’t answer and neither did he push her. He took out his phone and flicked through his gallery. “What do you think of this?” He showed her the picture of Goan sunset at the beach. She stared at the colors lighting up the clouded skies. She cleared her throat. “It’s of course beautiful. Why do you ask?”
“The Dhoodhsagar falls was particularly spectacular.” He showed her another picture. “What do you think?”
He scrolled through the pictures holding out the phone to her. “Which do you prefer? The sandy beaches or the rocky beaches?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I don’t know anything about you, your likes dislikes.” He shrugged. “I am just trying to get to know you.”
“Is this anyway to know a person? By playing twenty questions?” She threw up her hands. “Besides what does it matter?”
“It matters to me.”
“You are crazy.”
“I think you are right.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Do you know I fell in love with you at first sight?” he grinned at her expression, “Despite your protective gear,” He paused. “Or maybe because of it.”
“God woman! Will you let me speak?” He shook his head. “Boy you are such a chatterbox.”
She glared at him. “That’s rich coming from you.”
“Exactly. So please don’t keep trying to snatch the mike or the center stage from me.” He rebuked her. “So where was I? Yes, when I confessed my feelings to Titu after our third meeting, he also thought the same thing.” He looked into her eyes. “And he promptly whisked me away to Goa for de-addiction and rehabilitation. We had a blast but yet all I could think of was you. How you would have liked the sunset, whether you would have found it romantic or dismissed it with some scientific explanation, whether you would have liked to walk on the beaches or grumbled about the sand that got into everything, whether I could have convinced to try the feni or dance to the music on the ferry…”
“Sonu please,” her voice was raw and cracked. “Please don’t do this.”
“It’s already done. I can’t undo it. I can’t get you out of my system. Not then. Not while I was struggling to cope with the physical pain of the accident. Not now.”
“You’ll regret it.”
“Maybe maybe not. But in this,” he gestured between them, “I don’t have a choice.”
She blew her nose.
“Let’s not talk about me.” Sonu said earnestly. “Tell me what you want.”
“I want you to leave me alone.”
“Are you sure?” He asked.
Her eyes dropped before the intensity in his eyes. “I can’t marry you. It wouldn’t be right. I can’t…can’t,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “I don’t think I can have a physical relationship…”
“Okay so we won’t. Any other thing? You don’t dislike me do you?”
She shook her head dumbly.
“Great. So maybe you even like me a little bit?” He grinned engagingly at her.
“You are too much.” Her lips twitched.
“So you are saying that you too love me?”
“When did I say that?”
“Your eyes did.”
“Nonsense.” She looked at her watch. “I think I better go.”
“Look I am trying to cut a deal here.”
Lovely sighed. “What deal?”
“I want us to live together as friends, as partners,” he raised a hand, “and if we have to marry for that,” He shrugged. “So be it.”
“It won’t work out…”
“Well then it won’t! We’ll go our separate ways. What’s the problem?”
“You are the problem Sonu. You are oversimplifying things.”
“No. You are over-complicating things. I just want to share my life with you. Besides, Titu will get married soon and then what’ll become of me? I’ll be all alone.” He made a tragic face.
“You should also get married.”
“Excellent suggestion.” He beamed at her. “So when should we get married? Would you like a destination wedding? How about Goa? Or we could go after the wedding…”
“You aren’t listening to me!” She snapped.
“We’ll have separate rooms. For as long as you want. We can draw up a pre-nuptial and have it written down if you like.”
“It won’t work Sonu it won’t.” She said in despairing tones.
“Why will it not? For centuries people have gotten married for sex, for procreation, for political and strategic reasons so why not for friendship and companionship?” He argued. “You want a career right. Go ahead and make your career but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone at home waiting to eat your head?” Encouraged by her expression he gathered steam and waxed eloquent. “While you are busy at work who will take care of our daughters? Somebody has to be home for them right?”
“Weren’t you planning to adopt them? Children need both mother and father.” He paused as a thought struck him. He fiddled with the cutlery. “Or don’t you trust me?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
Click here for the Final Chapter: Will She Wont She