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Once all the luggage had been loaded in the car they set off for Oberoi Mansion. Soumya sat in the back-seat sticking close to her mother. Now that she had her again, Soumya realized just how much she had missed her mother’s warm touch.
” You have grown your hair Sumi! It looks nice.” Ranjana said patting Soumya tresses.
” Necessity Aai. First several months the culture shock, the hectic schedule of classes, on campus job, and studying left me with barely any time for personal grooming. At that time getting to classes on time, keeping up with assignments, getting enough sleep, and getting something decent to eat were my biggest concerns. I learned to survive mainly on fruits, salad, milk, and bread as nothing else tasted good. Then after a few months when I did go for a haircut, I found them to be sooo expensive. I got a trim anyway but was seriously discouraged from going back anytime soon. Then a couple of my friends said they couldn’t understand why I would want to chop my hair since it looked better long. That was enough excuse for me to stop wasting my money on salons when I could spend it on a good meal at an Indian restaurant!”
Om and Ranjana laughed out loud while Rudra, still recovering from the hug, looked ahead with a hint of a smile.
“Was it very hard managing on your own Soumya?” Om asked.
“It would have been if Shikhar bhaiya had not given me literally a survival and what to expect guide before I left. It helped big time.”
“It’s true. When God takes away something, if you just keep the faith and do your duty, he gives back twice as much or even more.” Ranjana said wiping her eyes again. ” He took away one brother from you and gave you back three.”
The rest of the journey was spent in part silence and part small chit-chat.
It was eleven at night by the time they reached Oberoi Mansion. Anika, Aashi, Priyanka, Dadi, Jhanvi, and Pinky were awake and waiting.
Soumya rushed and touched Dadi’s feet as soon as she got in. Dadi hugged her and kissed her forehead.
” Finally, the missing piece of our family puzzle is back.” she said smiling. ” How are you beta?”
“I am fine Dadi. All because of your blessings.” Soumya said, every word coming straight from her heart.
Then she went to Jhanvi who hugged her tightly. Once she had met Pinky, Soumya went and hugged Anika and Aashi and the three laughed together.
“I missed you both so much.” Soumya said . Finally she went to give Priyanka a big hug. “I am so excited to be here in time for your big day.”
“Not as excited as me to have you back.” Priyanka said smiling. She realized how much she had missed Soumya’s friendship and camaraderie.
” The kids must be asleep.” Soumya asked, her eyes roaming around the room.
“Yes Soumya.” Aashi said guiding Soumya toward the sofa to make her sit. “Anya asked one thousand questions about you and was determined to meet you tonight. But she is such a dynamo that her body gave up after ten p.m. Saahil was tired after school and a pile of homework. He was also super-excited to meet you again but had to go to sleep.”
“That’s ok. I’ll meet them tomorrow when they are all fresh.” Soumya said as she looked around. Everything felt so surreal. It was as if she had never left. Everything and everyone felt exactly how she had left them one and a half years ago. She felt completely at home and the feeling worried her a bit.
“Come have dinner, Soumya.” Anika said getting up.
“Bhabhi , I had a meal an hour before the plane landed so I am not hungry at all. Besides my whole body clock is messed up. It’s better if I don’t eat right now or I’ll get sick.” Soumya explained.
“Ok.” Anika said. ” Then take rest. I’ll leave everything in the dining room fridge. If you get hungry at night, just come and have something. Plates and spoons are on the table.”
“Sure. All of you rest. We will talk in the morning.” Soumya said looking at the tired faces around her. They obviously had a full day of work. “My luggage…” Soumya looked around.
“I sent it to your room.” Rudra said.
“My room…” Soumya sounded unsure. “Which one.” she wondered.
“Hain, Soumya! In one and a half years you have forgotten the way to your room?” Pinky said laughing.
Dadi saw Soumya’s discomfort and how red she was in the face and she understood. “Kuch bhi Pinky! Arrey, she has had a change of time-zones and has been sitting for an entire day probably. She is disoriented. Ranjana, take her to her room.”
Ranjana looked gratefully at Dadi and held Soumya by her elbow.” Come, let’s go. ”
As if in a daze Soumya said goodnight to everyone. Then, before she followed her mother, she gave one final look to Rudra who was looking at her intently.
Ranjana led her upstairs to her room. ” What did you think? That it won’t be your room anymore?”
“I just…I did not know what to think.” Soumya said in a halting voice.
All her doubts began to evaporate though, as soon as she walked into her old room, what used to be Rudra’s room when she had first come to Oberoi Mansion more than four years ago.
The room looked exactly like she had left it. Everything was clean but seemed untouched. She had packed as much as she could have before leaving but some knick-knacks that she had accumulated over the three years she had lived there, she had left behind. Not a single thing out of those, had been moved from its place. Soumya felt a little choked up.
“See what I mean.” Ranjana said patting her back gently. ” You probably want to take a shower before you sleep. I’ll go and change quickly. Then you take your time.”
About an hour later, when Soumya came out of the washroom after a long, hot, and relaxing bath, she found her mother fast asleep. Dressed in her soft, white, floral printed, cotton pyjamas, Soumya got in bed and hugged her fast asleep mother. She wept silently for a couple of minutes. Then sensing a release deep in her heart, she heaved a sigh of relief.
Half an hour later, she was still wide awake. ” I slept through most of the flight and now I can’t sleep.” she thought. Just then her stomach rumbled. It had been close to five hours now since she had eaten and the idea of the food Anika had mentioned earlier, seemed very appealing. Soumya got out of bed, and softly padded out of the room. She checked the time on a wall clock in the corridor. It was just after one a.m. Soumya calculated the time. “My body is at three thirty p.m. No wonder I am wide awake and hungry.” she thought as she went down the staircase and to the dining room.
As she got there, she saw that the light was already on. “Looks like Anika bhabhi forgot to switch off the light.” she thought as she walked towards the switchboard and was completely startled by the figure sitting at the dining table.
“Rudra!! What are you doing here?” she shrieked.
“Shh! Everyone is sleeping.” Rudra replied. ” I couldn’t sleep so I exercised and took a shower. Then I got hungry so I came to eat something.” Then seeing the still startled expression on her face he felt laughter rising within him. ” Don’t worry. I just had a banana and now I am drinking water. All the food bhabhi mentioned is still there in the fridge. Assuming that is why you are here. That brings me to my question. What are you doing here?”
” I am on daytime right now so I can’t sleep. And it’s been five hours since I ate so I am hungry.” she said a little defensively.
” Arrey! When did I ask for justification. Seedha bolnaa thaa, “I am hungry.” It wouldn’t have been unusual at all for me.” he said teasing her.
Soumya glared at him, then realizing how long it had been since he had teased her like that she couldn’t help smiling.
“Yeah, whatever.” she said walking towards the fridge as her stomach rumbled again.
“Whoa! It’s an emergency. Quick, eat something.” Rudra said egging her on.
Soumya surveyed the contents of the fridge and settled upon a stack of gobhi parathas. “Perfect!” she said with glee and took out a thick one in a plate.
Rudra looked at her happily as she went to warm it up in the microwave on the counter next to the fridge. The paratha warmed up, she brought her plate to the table and sat across Rudra.
“Don’t you want anything with that? Sabzi, yogurt, or something else.”
She just gruntled and shook her head in the negative focusing on eating while Rudra looked at her with a big grin on his face. Then he got up and went to the fridge.
After she was done with the paratha, her throat felt parched and thirst made her look up, to find Rudra setting a glass of water in front of her and a half filled water- bottle next to it. She looked at him gratefully and quenched her thirst immediately.
“Thanks ” she said smiling at him.
Again Rudra felt his heart racing. “Will it happen randomly?” Rudra thought to himself. “Either it should happen at each smile or I should know which type of smile will lead to it.”
“You have changed in some ways and are the same in many.” Soumya said looking at Rudra as she was done drinking water.
“Achcha? How have I changed?”
” I don’t know how to explain it but you seem grown up now and like, ummm…kind of mature. It’s in your eyes.”
Rudra chuckled, “I wasn’t exactly a baby when you left. But I get what you mean. It’s just the natural passage of time and life and experiences. What’s same?”
” Your terrible jokes.” Soumya said laughing.” And actually thank God for that. Grown-up, mature, and serious without jokes…I don’t know if I could have handled that Rudra!”
” Then I’ll never stop cracking stupid jokes. We don’t want a Rudra that you can’t handle.” he blurted out looking softly into her eyes.
In spite of having downed an entire glass of water a couple of minutes ago, Soumya felt her throat become dry again. She licked her lips nervously and picked up the bottle.
“Thirsty again?” Rudra asked still gazing at her and smiling more with his eyes than his lips.
Soumya just nodded and drank straight from the bottle while her breathing got very heavy and labored.
“It’s the same for you. Same in some ways and changed in others. But mostly same.” Rudra said looking at the clear indications of her rapid breathing.
“Was it your idea to bring Aai here?” Soumya asked out of nowhere.
“No. It was O’s idea. He did not want your Aai to have to wait to see you and he didn’t want you to leave the very next day of arriving here.”
Soumya felt her heart filling up. ” And she agreed to come so easily?”
Rudra took a deep breath. ” From what I saw three years ago and what I have seen over the years, your Aai can’t refuse something when O asks for it. To be fair, he is just that person, whom not many people can refuse anything. But your Aai…”
A lone tear dropped from one of Soumya’s eyes. ” He reminds her of bhaiya…my elder brother, Sameer, who died when he was twenty two. Their mannerisms, temperament, basic nature, have an uncanny resemblance. She felt it the moment she met him but when he called her Aai for the first time, the difference between Sameer and Om almost disappeared for her. She has absolute faith in Om bhaiya.”
Rudra nodded feeling a slight pang. He knew Ranjana was not angry with him anymore but would he ever be dear to her?
“I saw the room…my room…It’s so …”
“Unchanged?” Rudra completed her sentence.
Soumya just looked back at him surprised.
“What did you expect? That I would snatch it back and put my dumbbells in your room? I gave that room to you forever and Rudy jab ek baar commitment Kar letaa hai to phir apney aap ki bhi nahi suntaa” he said in his best possible imitation of the famous actor.
Soumya laughed while without any warning, the lurking tears rolled from her eyes.
“Sorry” she said. “Everything is just so back to normal that my emotions are all over the place.”
Rudra swallowed back getting a little choked up himself. Then going over to her side he tucked the lock of hair falling over her face, behind her ears. He held her by her arm and made her get up.
“Not just your emotions, but your entire body-clock is also all over the place. You should try to sleep or you will be sick tomorrow.”
Soumya nodded and let him lead her toward the staircase. Together they walked up to her room. At the doorstep Rudra turned towards her. “Sleep well.” he said softly. “And welcome home, Soumya.”
“Good night Rudra. And thanks.” Soumya replied in a low voice. Then, before he left, she gave him a quick hug. Trying to ignore his sharp intake of breath and his lifting his arms to encircle her in an embrace, Soumya turned around, and went inside her room. Her heart was beating very fast. To quiet it down she quickly got in bed, pulled the covers over herself, and closed her eyes.As soon as she did that, an incredibly attractive image of Rudra floated in front of her. She gazed at that image with her closed eyes, and before she knew it she was fast asleep.
Soumya saw that she was in some kind of a maze, frantically looking for a way out. The more she tried to get out, the deeper she got into the maze. Panic and frustration started to overcome her senses and she began to sob. All of a sudden, she heard a voice calling out to her. She looked towards the voice and found someone standing at the other end of the lane she was in. The figure looked promising, helpful, and comforting. She ran towards that person with her full strength and completely out of breath she stumbled just as she reached him. Before she could fall down, that person caught her in his arms and hugged her tightly. When she looked up, she saw it was Rudra. His eyes had the look of comfort, love, and reassurance. She felt a sense of relief pouring all over her and just then he bent his head down and kissed her softly. Her entire body responded to him as she returned his kiss. All of a sudden she felt incredibly soft and small hands patting her cheek and running through her hair. This isn’t Rudra’s hands. Who is this she wondered. “Soma, Soma maasi” a voice kept saying. “Soma?Who is this Soma” she wondered. Then all of a sudden Rudra disappeared but the hand kept patting her. Out of sheer desperation, Soumya woke up with a start and found herself staring directly into deep blue eyes with dark brown ringlets falling over it. It was the most beautiful face she had ever seen in her life. “Have I died and gone to heaven?” Soumya thought disoriented. But her misconception was cleared by another pat from the heavenly creature before her.
“Soma maasi! Utho.” she said
Soumya finally woke up completely.
“Who are you angel?” she asked gently touching those lovely ringlets of hair.
“Aanoo. Aaanyaa. Ok deeyar?” Anya said with her trademark bright smile.
Soumya grinned widely and gathered up the bundle of joy in her arms.
Thanks for reading Everyone. It’s an incredibly long chapter. I wanted to include all of Rumya conversation to keep the flow and include Anya as she has been missed by some of my readers. Hopefully there was something for everyone’s liking in this update. Please leave a comment if you can. I’d really appreciate it ☺