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Wednesday brought some semblance of normalcy to the Oberoi household. Soumya, Rudra, and Priyanka left for college at their regular time. Soumya attempted to talk to her mother before she left but Ranjana seemed distant. Soumya was not sure whether to give her some time and space to recover from her shock or to try to reach out to her. She was unsure which one would hurt her and which would be respectful of her. Thoroughly confused, she chose to stay quiet but hugged her mom before she left.
The rest of Wednesday was full of activity and buzz. To avoid stressing Saahil right before his surgery, the doctors had asked for him to be brought to the hospital Wednesday night. He had a large private room in the children’s section of the hospital. Both Anika and Shivaay intended to stay with him overnight. Wednesday evening, after an early dinner, they left for the hospital.Om and Rudra followed them to see them settled in their room.
Saahil was super-excited and quite nervous about his surgery. Shivaay played with him, read books, and watched television with him to calm him down while Anika worked on her own nerves. Eventually Saahil gave a big yawn and rubbed his droopy eyes. Shivaay patted his head gently and in a few minutes Saahil was fast asleep. Shivaay dimmed the lights in the room and pulled out the sofa bed from the couch near the window. He helped Anika spread out the bedsheet and comforter they had brought from home. The familiar bedding made the bed inviting to them. Soon they were lying side by side holding each other in the space that was a little cramped for two adults. Anika was already exhausted and soon fell asleep with her head on his arm. Shivaay softly pecked the top of her head and resting his chin on it fell asleep thinking about the next day.
Next morning, at around 9:45 am Saahil was taken to the operating room on a stretcher on wheels. Both Anika and Shivaay walked right next to him while Om and Rudra who had reached the hospital early that morning walked behind. Saahil looked at the four faces staring at him. It was a scene that would be forever imprinted in his mind because when he looked at each one he saw immense love and care for him. He felt very valued and confident and by the time he reached the operating room, his fear was gone. The doctor had briefly explained the process to him to avoid any unnecessary anxiety. “Saahil, there is nothing to worry about. It is a simple surgery. We will give you a medicine that will make you sleep so deeply for a few hours that you will feel nothing while we are operating on your leg. When you wake up, you will be back in your room, with a cast around your leg like the ones, people with fractures get. It’s meant to protect your leg from moving unsafely while it is healing.”
“I know” Saahil had chirped.”Aashi Didi had something similar and that was just for the sprain. ”
“Right.” The doctor had said. “It will only be there for a few weeks after which no cast, no crutches, no extra support or braces, shoes and slippers optional.”
Saahil chuckled thinking of that conversation and the four adults surrounding him looked at him in dismay. “Just chill everyone.” Saahil said in his typical cool manner. “Miltey hain break ke Baad.” Anika cried silently listening to him while the rest patted or kissed his forehead. Then he was taken in as they were left staring at the closed door of the operating room.
The doctor had said that the surgery would take anywhere from two to four hours. There was nothing left to do but wait.
All four went to the nearby waiting area to sit comfortably for, what they expected to be, the next two to three hours. Anika hardly spoke and stayed in a thoughtful state. All of Saahil’s childhood went past the foreground of her mind. A couple of years after her adoption, finding out that Ma was expecting, Saahil being born, his tiny form, Ma’s illness, taking full responsibility for every aspect of his life by the time he was a toddler, and Saahil’s complete reliance and faith on her. All of it kept her occupied and her brain flitted from one memory to another, one emotion to another, making her only vaguely aware of what was happening around her. Shivaay glanced at her every now and then. But not finding her anxious, only thoughtful, he was relatively relieved. He chatted with Om and Rudra discussing the events of the past few days, Rudra’s future plans, random business issues and things in general.
“What time is Dadi going to come?”
“She asked me to inform her as soon as the surgery was done. She will come with Prinku and Soumya. The rest will see him when he goes back home.” Om informed him.
Shivaay nodded and then stretched his back. It was stiff from sleeping uncomfortably at night.
“Shivaay, I’ll go and get coffee for us.” Om said observing the fatigue on his face.
Shivaay nodded gratefully.
“I’ll come with you.” Rudra volunteered. Both left for the food-court.
Shivaay went and sat on the sofa chair next to Anika. He kept his left hand on the armrests between them. Anika quietly held his hand and took a deep breath.
As Om reached the sitting area with the coffee, the sight in front of him made his heart skip a beat. Sitting on a chair right across Shivaay, where Om himself had been sitting some time ago, was Aashi listening intently to something Shivaay was explaining.
“What time is it Rudra?” he asked still looking at Aashi.
Rudra looked around for a wall clock since he had a cup of coffee in each hand. “Aah there is one! It’s 12:30.” Rudra said finding a clock on the wall to his left.
“If ever there was an award for punctuality and dependability…” Om said smiling faintly.
“You would get it O…I am sure of it.” Rudra said in an encouraging tone.
Om just laughed and walked over to where the rest of them were sitting.
“Hi Aashi di.” Rudra said smiling.”You can have my coffee. I’ll get another one for myself.”
“Hi Rudra. Hi Om.” Aashi said smiling at both of them. “I am good. Maybe I’ll get one for myself later.”
They sat there talking and waiting. “How long since the surgery started?” Aashi asked.
“Two and a half hours” Anika said. She hadn’t spoken much in the entire conversation but had clearly shown appreciation for Aashi’s presence.
After another half an hour, a nurse came to inform them that Saahil was ready to be taken to his room. All five got up immediately and went towards the operating room.
“Rudra, call Dadi.” Om said
A few minutes later, Shivaay and Anika were sitting by Saahil’s bedside. The other three had seen him briefly but to avoid crowding the room, they were back in the sitting area.Saahil was still unconscious and was expected to gain conciousness in an hour or so.
“Dadi, Prinku, and Soumya will be here soon.” Rudra informed them. “Now I want to eat something. You guys want anything?” he asked.
Om shook his head in denial.
“I’ll have a small coffee. No sugar, no cream. Thanks Rudra.” Aashi said.
Rudra made a startled face at her specifications but nodded and left.
“Well, the surgery seems to have gone well.” Aashi said looking at Om. “And by day after tomorrow he will be back home. I am so happy for all of you ”
Om looked at her and smiled. Putting his left arm around her shoulder he kissed her briefly on her cheek. “Thanks for coming. And if you are not in a hurry, don’t leave anytime soon.” Om said softly.
Aashi nodded. “I am not in a hurry.”
As Rudra walked back with a cup of coffee in his hand, he saw Om sitting with his arm around the back of Aashi’s chair and talking to her casually. He smiled. It felt good to see Om like this. Happy, satisfied. He silently prayed to God to bring Aashi permanently in their lives.
“One coffee.” he said as he handed the coffee to her. Aashi squirmed a little getting concious of Om’s arm around her back but he did not remove it. There was nothing to do but to play along so she sipped on her coffee quietly
“All good Aashi di?” Rudra asked smiling at the two of them.
Aashi nodded hoping now Om would take a hint and remove his arm. He didn’t.
“Yes, yes good coffee.” she said realizing that Om was in no mood to budge. She took a deep breath and let all her discomfort out of her system. “I guess we are past this limit. So be it.” she thought to herself and settled back.
By late afternoon, Dadi, Priyanka, and Soumya along with all the rest had all visited Saahil after he had gained conciousness. He seemed groggy but happy to see everyone. After having spent some time together, everyone, except Shivaay and Anika, was ready to go back.
Priyanka came to Aashi to say bye. “I hope I’ll get to see you soon Aashi di.”
“We’ll meet soon Priyanka. Take care.” Aashi turned to look at Soumya to say bye to her. There was a sadness in Soumya’s eyes that made Aashi feel restless. “Bye Soumya. See you soon.”
Soumya nodded and left with Dadi and Priyanka. Puzzled, Aashi turned to look at Rudra and found a somber expression on his face as well.
As they got near the parking area, Rudra took the keys from Om and went to the car.
“Om, is everything OK with Soumya? ” Aashi asked completely startling Om.
“Yes, why?” he answered as normally as he could.
“I don’t know. She looked very sad.”
“Her mom leaves in two days so maybe that’s on her mind.” Om felt terrible. He hadn’t exactly lied but he had kept truth from her. And he knew she could be trusted. It made him feel sick. To ignore the feeling he put his arm around her waist.As they got closer to her car, Om gave her a quick hug and waved at her as she left. When he turned to go over to his own car, he found Rudra standing there with a big grin on his face.
“What?” Om asked getting into the driving seat.
“Nothing. I am just happy. So you and Aashi di…Hmm…We all thought things might get this far…But clear my confusion, just how far are things?” Rudra said in his best teasing voice.
Om turned to look at him and laughed. “I don’t know how far things are except that I am in love with her and would like her to be with me maybe forever? Does that clear your doubts?”
Rudra’s jaw dropped as he simply stared at Om. He was quiet for a while then said, ” In that case O, whenever you think is the right time for it, tell Aashi di about Soumya and me. She deserves to know. It was due to her thoughtful advice that I went and talked to Soumya nicely and things got better between us.”
Om looked at Rudra startled.
“When you had brought Aashi di home after her injury, Soumya and I had fought due to my hyper explanation that we were not brother and sister. Aashi di noticed some tension between us the next day. She talked to me, said sorry if her questions had caused any tension, and advised me to talk sensitively to Soumya. I followed that advice and slowly things got better. I don’t want your relationship with her to suffer because she was kept out of this secret.”
Om felt overwhelmed. “She took notice of Rudra’s tension and helped him out. And this was when her main problems were still unsolved.” Whatever doubt might have remained in his mind, disappeared.
Late Saturday morning, Saahil was brought back home. The cast made his movements restricted so he needed extra help and attention. That night, as Ranjana packed her luggage to leave the next morning, she noticed Soumya sitting on the bed quiet as she stared vacantly at her. Ranjana felt restless. “What is the point in waging an ego war with your own child” she thought.
She went and sat next to Soumya. ” Look Soumya, what has happened is so big that I can’t tell you that everything is fine. I am still upset and probably will be for some time. But I have truly chosen to forgive you. If you want things to go back as close to normal as possible, study hard. Prove to me that your intentions for staying here are honest. No matter what happened, I love you and will always love you. Finish your exams well and come home for vacations. I’ll wait for you.”
Soumya had tears in her eyes as she felt the love and care she had been craving for from her mother. She hugged her mom tightly. “I am so sorry Aai. I will miss you. I’ll study very hard, I promise.”
Life settled into a regular routine through the next few weeks. Saahil had to stay home due to his cast.He spent his time reading, watching shows, playing with some family member and taking plenty of rest. Soumya and Rudra spent most of their time studying. Priyanka waited for her admission in a fashion technology institute to be done. Everyone at home had been informed about her future plans and thankfully there was no objection to her wish from anyone. Jhanvi and Dadi were excited for her. Pinky and Shakti had no strong opinion in the matter. And Tej did not mind indulging his daughter. All that mattered to Priyanka was that, just as Shivaay had mentioned, she had six hundred percent support from her brothers. There was one more person she wished to share this news with but she had no idea how to do that without it being awkward. Finally she left it up to God. “God brought him in my life and made him a life-changing force for me.He will take care of the rest as well.”
The front of Om’s gallery was finally done, and Aashi’s work had started in full force. Her design for the interiors had been approved by Om and the construction work had already started. They met regularly to oversee the construction and often went out after their meetings. Sometimes they met over the weekends at each other’s home.
Six weeks after Saahil’s surgery after his cast was removed, Aashi and Shikhar visited Oberoi Mansion to see him and meet everyone else. Saahil could now walk with a slight limp but independently. The doctor had assured that the limp would also go away with physiotherapy over the next few months. Assured about Saahil’s wellness, Anika had finally started working on her restaurant again in close consultation with Shikhar.
“Aashi, please get started on my office as soon as you can.” Anika said as they sat talking after dinner. “I see now what Shivaay meant. I really need a proper space for my things.”
“Yes. I’ll get started on that next week. I have the basic blueprint and it won’t take more than a couple of weeks to get your office done. It’s more of a re-arrangement and decor rather than construction.”
As Aashi and Anika discussed their plan with input from Shivaay, Shikhar watched Priyanka listening quietly. He got up to sit next to her. “How have you been Priyanka. I haven’t really talked to you for a long time now. Aashi told me you are planning on joining a fashion technology institute.”
Priyanka felt both excited and nervous. The way he looked at her was different from the last time they had met and talked properly. But she was unable to decipher the look. ” Yes. I have actually been accepted into one and I will be starting at the beginning of term in a couple of months. Since I have quit college, I am now mostly home, and read up the books prescribed for the first year. I don’t understand everything, but what’s the harm in trying.”
” ‘I don’t understand everything, but what’s the harm in trying.’ I like that. You know, I should start writing these statements you make. They are like powerful quotes that can cause mini-earthquakes in my brain.”
“What? I cause earthquake?” Priyanka asked slightly appalled. “…that too in your brain? What does that mean?”
Shikhar chuckled, “No I mean that in a positive manner. That they leave me thinking deeply. I am still trying to figure out my passion.”
“I thought it was architecture.” Priyanka said innocently making Shikhar get a little lost in her soft mannerisms like he always did. But he recovered quickly.
” I guessed at that time because I had no real answer after having given you a speech about the importance of being passionate. Later I realized that I loved my job but it wasn’t really my passion. So I am actively looking for it now, which is nice in itself. I haven’t felt so alive in ages. Anyway, I am so happy that you are starting on a new journey. I wish you success.”
Priyanka smiled.” Well, in a way you set me off on this journey. So part of the credit for this new journey goes to you. The rest to my brothers for supporting me.”
Shikhar was taken aback. “How did I help?”
“You identified my love for designing Indian clothes as my passion and gave example of Om bhaiya and what he had done with his love for art. So that got me thinking.” Suddenly an understanding dawned on her. ” Ohh! That earthquake! You caused a mini earthquake in my brain too and pushed me on this new path. I have never been this excited and happy.”
Shikhar looked at her in disbelief. “Never had I imagined that there was this charming, eloquent girl hidden inside that anxious, timid one.” he thought to himself. He had a strange sense of connection with her but could not realize that it was because each had driven the other to think about their life and explore new possibilities.
As Om went to see off Aashi and Shikhar that night he held her hand like before. Aashi held his hand back and did not try to tug it away. ” I’ll see you at the gallery next week if not before. And I will call to set up the time unless I just drop by.” she said smiling mischievously.
Om tightened his grip on her hand. He did not want her to leave. I am going to put an end to this torture next week, he thought with determination as he saw her slide into her seat. I know I gave her time to think till gallery opening but a couple weeks earlier shouldn’t matter. He bent down and kissed her cheek before he closed her door and looked at her for a sign of astonishment. There was none. And the expression that was there in her eyes, made him want to turn back time by a few minutes and kidnap her before she could leave.
As Om gave finishing touches to his project later that night, he stepped back to look at his work. It looked mesmerizing and beautiful. Once it was finished, he would have to hide it till the gallery opened. He went back to working and just as he was finishing up for the night, his phone rang. Om smiled. “Must be her.” he thought looking at the phone. They had been talking before bedtime lately and that had helped him with his overall restlessness. But the name that flashed there incensed him and he walked out of the studio, leaving the phone behind. He closed the studio door behind him and marched to his room, seething.
Thanks for reading Everyone. One more chapter to go. Plus I am thinking of writing an epilogue. I have tried my best to tie up the ends and keep a flow in the story. Hopefully you will like it. Please do comment if you can. I would really appreciate it.