EPISODE 32: LUCKY
Taking a deep breath I entered her house for the second time. Behind me Anika was already becoming upset, tears springing to her eyes as I saw her. The first thing I saw was an open bedroom door and the second was the mess all over the place. Well, it could be considered average messy at least. I ignored it and walked straight to the open door.
As soon as I reached the doorway, I stopped in my tracks. The scene looked like one from a melodramatic movie or something. Om was sitting upright, cradling Ishu’s slight frame in his arms like a baby. She was still wearing last night’s magenta top and jeans, but she looked more tired and more slender than ever. Her hands were clinging on to Om, crushing his light blue shirt in some places. As we walked closer to them, I could see her cheeks were puffed up, her lips were a little parched and her closed eyes were a little swollen from the incessant crying. Om didn’t realize our presence and was looking at her with an unfathomable expression, like seeing her in pain caused him grief too. I knew that feeling now and I could relate to him.
“Om”, I whispered and he looked up. Bloodshot eyes, haggard face, uncombed hair; this person didn’t look like my Om at all. He used to look similar to this when he was going through his rehab. But that was a long time back and seeing him like this now, I was reminded of Bade Papa’s words before we left.
“Shivaay, I want to talk to you”, he said from my room’s door. After a quick glance at Rudra and Anika’s angry and hurt expressions, I had decided to follow him out. Once outside, I wanted to question him directly, but he surprised me, “I think Om is in danger.”
My face went blank as he elaborated, “I think Ishu is a danger to Om. He’s with her right now, isn’t he?” I nodded stiffly and asked him, “Why do you think so?” I tried to read his expression but he seemed genuinely concerned. Could it be an act?
“Well, Ishu might have gotten the wrong idea about something and she might have assumed that Shakti and I hurt her parents, which is not true. So, if we think about it psychologically, wouldn’t she go for ‘tit for tat’ approach? Assuming that we hurt her loved ones, won’t she hurt the ones we love too? She even seems like the violent, psycho type!”
He had planted the doubt in my head. But is he really concerned for Om or is he trying to get me to protect him from her inevitable wrath? I did not acknowledge his questions and stiffly walked away to call Om.
“What has she done to my brother?” the thought involuntarily crossed my mind. Om was still staring at us and Rudra finally broke the silence. Moving to the bed, he asked, “O, what happened to Ishu Di?” He looked down at the sleeping girl and then back to Rudra vacantly. Behind me, I felt Anika trembling with unshed tears at her sister’s condition.
“Om, are you okay?” I asked him softly. He swallowed and then after a moment nodded with pursed lips. When he spoke finally, his voice was strained with agony. “Shivaay, they did this to her. They’re the reason…” My jaw hardened at his statement as I contemplated, “How on Earth can he be so sure?”
I thought back to Khanna and the private investigator’s reports from before. Apparently, a few years ago Bade Papa and Dad had played dirty to get their hands on something important from a rival’s company. The original plan was to bribe or scare the senior project manager of the other company, who was Ishu’s Dad. But it got out of hand when Dad’s car moved in from a blind spot and Ishu’s Dad swerved the car to avoid accident, hitting a wall as a result. Both her parents were injured and they died due to terrible blood loss. Her Mom could have survived, but she wasn’t taken to the hospital soon enough. Dad was scared because of the unplanned events and he asked Bade Papa for help. They decided that without the corpse, no one will ever be able to associate their missing with the Oberois. Moreover, if Ishu had remembered that incident and wanted to take any legal action against them, they could have easily brushed it aside too. That was the quick and apathetic version of what had happened almost three years ago.
That plan would’ve worked, as long as Ishu was the feeble, meek, placid girl they had thought her to be. Instead, she was the kind of lioness who would definitely not sit back quietly after remembering everything. For once, I was not proud of my family. As for the cute little girl who was just a victim in all of this till now, I really hoped I won’t have to stand against her.
I signaled Om to come outside and Anika took his position beside Ishu. I looked back once to see Anika caressing her hair softly and Rudra sitting near her feet. Outside, he walked straight to the balcony where two folding chairs were kept. We took one each and sat quietly for some time. “Did you eat?” I broke the silence first. “No”, came the expected honest reply.
After some more minutes, Om spoke up, “You know everything, right? Am I right that our fathers are responsible for this?” I affirmed it with a guilty nod and he sighed in regret. “What did the doctor say? How long has it been?” I asked trying to divert the topic. He told me her medical details and I wondered aloud if we should wake her up or wait a little longer. My mind went back to Bade Papa’s words and I asked him if he thought Ishu could hurt him to get back at them.
“No, Ishu will never hurt me. In fact, I know I can stop her from hurting anyone if I want to. But the question is, do I want to?” His words were confident but unsure at the same time. I wondered what would be the result if he is actually wrong, if his conviction is unfounded. Shaking off the negativity, I decided to wait and watch her reaction to our presence before deciding anything else right now.
Just then we heard some sounds from within and Rudra came running to us. In a frightened voice, he said, “Bhaiya, O! Ishu Di is crying and saying things in her sleep. Is it normal?”
I looked back at Om to confirm it and it appeared that this was the most normal thing for him now. Nevertheless, we rushed back and Om went to her side, pressing his fingers to her cheeks and forehead. She clutched his shirt again, considerably calmer in his presence.
I turned away, unable to watch her crying and whimpering like an injured animal. I tried to think what I could do to make it better for either one of them, but I came up empty. Not knowing what to do, I went to the kitchen and set to doing the one thing that calms me. Maybe I could get her to eat something when she wakes up.
She woke up after two hours, having slept through the entire day. The evening sun was glowing brightly in sharp contrast to the mood in the little apartment. She had woken up to Anika’s touch on her brow and smiled at her in greeting before realizing why she was there.
She looked around the room and then at herself. Om was quietly standing at one corner, leaning back at the wall beside the window, with a careful expression. She averted her eyes from him as if feeling guilty for some unvoiced thoughts, but his gaze frequently drew her vision back to him. After minutes of charged silence, she croaked out a “Hi” and then cleared her parched throat. Rudra handed her a glass of water but she avoided it at first. When she noticed his remorseful face, she flushed a little and extended her shaking hands to take the glass.
But Rudra surprised her by holding the glass for her while she drank in huge gulps. When she next spoke, her voice was still hoarse, but it was tolerable to hear. “Why did you guys come? I’m sorry you were troubled because of me.” Almost all of us looked at her like she had lost it, except for Om who stubbornly kept his poker face on.
Taking a deep breath, I told her, “Ishu, quit the formalities, please. We know what happened.” She hadn’t expected that and looked down at her entwined fingers with a sad pout. Coming to a decision, she looked up and said, “Then you guys should definitely ‘not’ be here.” Rudra was about to protest but I interrupted him and asked him to get the food. It was Ishu’s turn to protest, “No, I don’t want anything. Also…” she paused to look at Om again and continued, “I have to wash up first.” She gave him a small smile but Om’s expression didn’t change. I assumed it was their secret or something, so I didn’t ask about it. Instead, I asked her to brush her teeth quickly.
She pressed her lips together but didn’t argue. She stumbled to the bathroom but just before going in, she turned to see us fixed in our positions. “Are you going to wait here while I shower?” Embarrassed at this direct question, I stood up from the bed. Om, on the other hand, strode to the bathroom door and placing his hands on both her shoulders asked in a deep voice, “Ishu, are you okay?”
I walked away to give them some privacy but slowed down at the doorway to hear her “I’m okay, Om. Thanks to you.”
While we waited on the messy living room couch, I noticed Om was trying to keep himself from bursting into tears. Anika went into her room to check up on her and didn’t come out for a long time. Observing his unusual silence, I patted Rudra on his back and said, “Even if they’re wrong, isn’t it our duty to stand by them?” Rudra was sad to hear my answer to his unasked question, but he pulled himself together and nodded at me in understanding. Om, however, was torn between my answer and his own righteousness. Plus, he had a third route to consider this time, and that was letting Ishu do as she wished and not do anything about it. His hand was resting on his knees and I reached out to hold it in encouragement. “One for all, all for one”, Rudra repeated to himself and I couldn’t agree more.
When the two girls didn’t come out for a long time, I knocked and entered to see a really beautiful sight. On the huge bed, Anika was braiding Ishu’s hair lovingly as a smile tugged at Ishu’s lips. They had clearly had a difficult talk, but they were still together like true sisters. OmRu had followed me to the door and we went in to occupy the limited space. Looking around the room, Ishu stole the words out my mouth, “You should have brought Prinku, Saumya, and Sahil too. Then we would all have been a big happy family!” Although her words were bittersweet, I caught the ring of longing and sadness in her tone.
I brought her bowl of khichdi and a bottle of water and sat next to her, holding it in front of me. “I wanted to prepare something more delicious, but there wasn’t enough vegetables in the refrigerator. Also, this is the best for sick people”, I explained. Her gaze travelled from me to the khichdi and back. “I will eat later. Thanks for this”, she said formally. Rudra spoke up then, “Ever since we came to know, none of us has had anything. O hasn’t eaten either. Please have something Ishu Di.” His childlike voice worked magic on her as she looked at each one of us, clearly shocked with this info. I held a spoonful near her mouth, mouthing an “Aah”. She was overwhelmed at that, and after a moment’s deliberation, she gave in to my care.
“You know that you’re technically feeding your enemy by your own hands, right?” she asked between mouthfuls.
I thought about that and replied, “Yes, but you can also think of this as an apology on the behalf of our Dads. I know this doesn’t change anything and there’s no consolation that I can offer for what you have gone through. But I still wish you won’t do it.” I could tell she was deep in thought after hearing me out. So it was a little later that she spoke again. But when she did, her resolve was firm and her voice was fierce. “I don’t want to go against any one of you. But if I don’t kill them for what they did with my parents, I won’t even be able to die in peace. At least you should understand, right?”
I replied, “I do understand, but I can’t say if it is right or wrong. In any case, it’s my duty to stand by our fathers. No matter what, I’ll protect them.” She wasn’t surprised by my answer, but she turned to look at Om again. I, too, registered his dark look but chose to ignore it for now. “I know that. Even so, thanks Bhaiya. For everything.”
I was happy for the acknowledgement, but I couldn’t accept it. And I told her that, “Don’t call me that. I won’t be able to protect you if you’re against my family itself.” She heard my guilt-ridden voice and hurriedly reassured me, “No, no. It’s for all this love and care. Of course you’re like an elder brother to me and I’m so lucky to have you all in my life. I’m so sorry I can’t find another way to be at peace with myself. No matter how I think of it, this is the only choice for me!”
Sensing her depression in hurting us, I simply nodded at her and fed her another spoonful. I exchanged a glance with Anika and then turned to see Om. Both of them were equally pained after listening to our conversation. I looked at Rudra at last and seeing his innocent features twisted into a sad mask, I wondered if both, Ishu and I had to make other options to choose from, for the sake of our loved ones.
SNEAK PEEK: Ishu is missing.
So guys, thoughts?