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Time. A phenomenon that ticks away constantly, that runs our lives commandingly, that reduces the most powerful to non-entities, that elevates non-entities to the most powerful, transitions fear and inhibition to boldness and liberation, and that transforms hatred and apathy to love and passion and vice-versa. It can make the immature gain some seriousness and the overly serious to live a little. It can turn hope to despair and despair to hope. And yet, how many of us are conscious of this phenomenon that guides our lives? How much value do we place upon it ? If we were conscious of it and valued it, we would be less anxious, less depressed, less arrogant, and much more satisfied.
Time had brought Rudra to a juncture where he was not only leaving behind college life but also everything it had stood for. For lack of care, non-stop fun and entertainment, and constant quest for fresh faces to keep him from getting bored. He was done with his final exams, and whatever the result may be, his path was set. He was going to start going to office with Shivaay the next day and start working as an intern to understand the mechanics and dynamics of their business. He was excited because to him it meant being an adult who was on his path to discover and prove his full potential. And then he remembered that now that the exams were over, Soumya would go to stay with her mom for her vacations. He had a sense of loneliness in spite of the fact that in the past two months they had spent most of their time studying independently. Yet, her presence mattered to him. To think that he could go see her if he wanted to was a comfort that was going to be absent for the next month or so. He slowly walked towards Soumya’s room.As he entered it, he saw her sorting her books and stationary in separate piles.
“Already organizing for next term?” he asked her casually.
Soumya turned to look at him. “Yes, when I come back I’ll be too sad to do all this. Right now I am excited and happy to go and see Aai so I have energy for all this.”
Rudra smiled sadly. ” Yes. I understand your excitement to see Aai and your sadness for leaving her behind when you come back. But is there nothing to be sad about when you leave and happy about when you come back?”
Soumya looked surprised by his question. “Yes there is. I’ll miss everyone here when I leave and I’ll be happy to see all of you and go back to college when I come back.” she said looking at him briefly and then averting his gaze to look back at what she had been doing.
“Right.” Rudra said nodding. ” Everyone here and all of us. That’s nice. Won’t you stay till O’s gallery opening? It’s just a week and a half away.”
Soumya completely avoided looking at him this time. “I talked to Om bhaiya about it. Staying for it would mean giving up a week and a half worth of time that I could spend with Aai. He suggested I leave immediately to reassure Aai.”
“That’s correct advice. Yes. You should go and be with her for as long as possible. When do you leave?”
This time Soumya’s voice had started to fail her. She felt a little choked up but she did not want to let it on.”Tomorrow. Dadi has arranged for my journey.” she said in almost a whisper.
Rudra sat there staring at her working through her things for a while. “Well, have a nice time with your Aai. I’ll be starting office tomorrow morning, so I’ll hardly be seeing you tomorrow. Take care. I’ll miss you.”
Soumya was startled and unable to say anything. She just looked at him as he got up and left the room. “I might not see him tomorrow!” she thought to herself. Then almost in panic, she got up and ran to the door. She saw him walking away.”Rudra!” she called out softly as he was still nearby. “I’ll miss you too.” she said and looked down.
Rudra smiled and walked back to her. Then on an impulse he kissed the top of her head briefly. ” Have a safe journey. I’ll wait for you to come back.” He looked at her shocked face for a few seconds and left.
Sitting in his office and done with the meetings for the day, Om looked at his phone. Two missed calls. He apprehensively looked at the call log. The name that flashed there made him agitated. Those calls were from Riddhima. His ex-girlfriend. He had been ignoring her calls for an entire week now. She had called five or six times. Om set the phone aside and thought hard. He had left her so far behind. Gradually, time had made him forget all about her existence until now, when it’s tide had brought her back like waves of the ocean bring back long lost objects from the deep ocean and dump them on the shore. He recalled their last meeting and how she had collaborated with Tej to get him to sign property agreement papers against Shivaay.
“Why the hell is she calling me out of the blue when I made it clear to her that I wanted nothing to do with her! Whatever! I don’t want to have anything to do with her now and never will.” He deleted her number from the call log. Just as he did that his phone rang again. He looked at his phone angrily but then calmed down. It was Aashi.
“Hi! How are you?” Aashi asked.
“Fine. I miss you.” Om blurted out desperately.
” We met two days ago. Anyway, I have some last minute ideas for the finishing touches on the gallery. With just a week and a half to the gallery opening, I am not sure if this will work. Most of next week will be the final cleaning and polishing up of the place.”
“You do what you think is best Aashi. I have complete faith in you. But yes, all the marketing and publicity for our opening has been done and is actually still ongoing. We already have hundered percent entries so we need to start setting up the place and placing the artwork on display beginning next week.” Om said thoughtfully.
” I know, the publicity for your show has been fabulously done by your team. It’s really talk of the town. You should give some bonus to your PR team for pulling this off so well. And that’s why I wanted to consult with you, the feasibility of adding anything at this point as we could always do this after the first show. But I have a client meeting for today that will take up the rest of the afternoon, so I’ll meet you tomorrow to discuss this.”
“Can you meet me in the evening today, not to discuss this but something else. I want to talk to you.” Om said dolefully.
Aashi noticed the glumness in his voice and felt restless. “What happened? Okay let me see when I can finish my work. Then I’ll see whether we can meet. I would like to say bye to Soumya too. I know she is leaving tomorrow. We have talked a few times since you told me, you know…Anyway, I’ll let you know. Bye.”
“Bye.” Om said briefly.
“What’s going on with him!?” Aashi thought with worry. But just then, she got a call from her client and had to postpone her pondering for later.
Om sat staring at his phone.” I am going to go and see her today and finalize things once and for all.” He knew Shikhar was out of town for a day. “Even if it is at midnight, I will get this done today!”
He went back to looking at his computer screen and tried hard to concentrate. Completely immersed in his work, he did not notice his office door open.
“Hi Om.” He heard a vaguely familiar voice say to him. He looked up startled and stared at the person in front of him.
“How are you? My God you have changed so much! Business suit, shorter hair, this office! Wow! You look even better than before. This new avatar suits you. But, I thought eventually you would at least take my call.” Riddhima said wistfully.
In her office, Aashi hung up her phone thankfully. Her client-meeting for the second half of the day had just been cancelled due to an emergency. All of a sudden she found herself done for the day. “Well, he really wanted to talk about something and now I can discuss the gallery stuff as well. Good thing his office is close by.” she thought as she got up, picked up her things and walked out of her office.
Om felt his entire body heated up with agitation as he got up from his chair. “What are you doing here? Why are you here?”
“Come on Om. It’s been more than six months. Can’t we even talk? For old times sake. I saw the promotion of your gallery and all the good work it is all set to you. I am really impressed by how in spite of joining your brother in business you have not forgotten your first love. Made me realize, no matter what happens, it is hard to forget your first love.”
Om looked at her impatiently.” Look Riddhima, I have nothing to tell you, nothing to discuss with you. You shouldn’t have come here like this. In fact who let you in?”
“Well, apparently, some of the staff here still remembers me. And an old time picture from our happier times helped. Why have you been ignoring my calls Om? If it still bothers you to talk to me, it means you still care. I just wanted to come and see it for myself and not let you ignore me anymore.”
” What happened between us is well in the past. I did not ignore your calls because I care, I ignored them because I have moved on and I really don’t care anymore. So once again, Leave!”
Riddhima found the coldness and indifference in his expression and his tone unbearable. “How can you not care. All those times we spent together. Living together, being intimate…”
“Get the hell out of here. It’s in the past. It’s over.” Om shouted pacing towards her as he showed her the door.
Riddhima shook hard at the rage in his voice and looked aghast that her attempt to reconnect with him had been so futile. And now when he was so much more appealing and successful than before! She regretted the day she had listened to Tej. “If only I had waited patiently, all that I had wanted would have happened anyway.” she thought to herself.
She got up weakly. “All right. I’ll leave. I’ll never come back. I just wanted to congratulate you on your success as a businessman and also for taking your love for art to the next level.” She moved towards him with a pleading expression in her eyes.
Om looked at her with exasperation as she came to him and hugged him. ” Just for old times’ sake Om.”
Aashi walked towards Om’s office. The staff at Oberoi tower had instructions to never ask her questions as she was working for Om, Shivaay, and Anika, all at the same time. As she went up in the elevator, she thought of the day Om had startled her in her office. She smiled mischievously. “I’ll give him a surprise today.” she thought as she saw his office door and walked briskly toward it.
Om was beginning to push Riddhima away when she startled him by tightening her grip around him and reaching up to kiss him desperately. Just as he flinched back trying to get free of her, there was a brief knock at the door and it swung open.
Aashi looked in smiling widely and then within a fraction of a second the smile on her face turned to complete shock as she saw a woman with her arms wrapped around Om, and their faces almost fused together.
Om flinched back and pushed Riddhima away from him and turned to look towards the door. All blood drained from his face and he felt his heart sink as his eyes fell on Aashi’s shocked face. Then he heard her mumble “sorry.” before she turned around and left.
Om stood there stunned at what had happened within a span of two minutes.
“Who was she?” He heard Riddhima’s voice. He felt a murderous rage sweep his entire being.
“If you want to leave this place alive, you will leave immediately without another word. And if I see you anywhere near me or my family, which includes my fiancee, who just left, I will get a restraining order against you.”
The menace in his voice made it clear to Riddhima that she had better leave and never look back. She gave him one last look and left swiftly.
Om stood there for a couple of seconds shaking with anger. Then he started to think what to do next. “Where must she have gone.” Instinct told him, that after what had just happened, she must have headed straight home for privacy. He picked up his keys and rushed to his car.
Aashi reached home and let her driver off for the rest of the day. She unlocked her front door and entered it absentmindedly and in a daze went to the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of water and drank it in a few huge gulps. Then she looked at her phone. It was just after one in the afternoon. She picked up her phone and called her maid’s number. “Sushila, I will be late coming home from work and have to leave early tomorrow morning. So don’t come this evening or tomorrow morning. Bhaiya is on a business trip and won’t be back until afternoon tomorrow. So there is nothing to do really.”
Her maid thanked her gratefully.
Aashi walked to her study and threw off her shoes. She took out her tucked in shirt from the waistband of her skirt and pulled of the rubber band holding her hair in a ponytail. She pulled down the zipper on the side of her skirt to loosen it and got into her bed, curling up in a foetal position shivering hard. “I know what I saw. But can he do that? Is that what he wanted to tell me? That he couldn’t wait for me anymore? Is that why he was so glum? Or did I misunderstand? He won’t do that to me. He can’t. We have an unsaid commitment. Do we really?” She felt like her head was going to explode and she closed her eyes tight for comfort. Then she pulled the comforter near her feet over her for warmth and lay there trying to get a grip over herself.
Once inside the campus of her bungalow, Om parked his car under the portico, and went back to close the gate he had just opened to let his car in. Then he walked to the front entrance door of her house. He was about to ring the bell when he noticed that the door was a little ajar. “Why is this door open!?” he thought nervously as he entered it and locked it from inside. He walked through the hallway and into the living room. Her bag and her work stuff lay in a mess on the sofa. Finding the kitchen and the living room empty, Om walked toward her study and went in.
Her desk was neat and chair pushed in. He walked softly past them and saw her shivering, supine form, a little bundle under the comforter. Her open hair covered almost her entire face and he heard quick and hard breathing sounds coming from her. Om felt like a knife had been twisted in his heart. He walked over to her quietly and sat down on the floor right in front of her.
Aashi felt warmth around her and it reduced her shivering and gave her comfort. What was the source of this extra warmth? She came out of her trance like state and opened her eyes slowly to look directly into the warmest brown eyes she had ever seen in her entire life. They were full of pain, fear, and anxiety. Were all those emotions for her? Was he here to break up a commitment they had never given each other or to tell her that there had been a huge misunderstanding. Either way, he was here. And as of now, her heartbeat calmed down a little due to that fact.
Om pushed back the hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. She quivered a little at his touch but then calmed down.
“What do you think you saw in my office?” he asked her softly.
“I don’t know. But I didn’t like it so I ran away.” she said with immense sadness.
“Why do you think I am here?” he asked again.
“To explain.” she answered him briefly not trusting her voice to support her.
“Do you think I could do that to you? Cheat on you? Be infidel to our relationship?”
“But I had given you no clear answer. I had made you wait so long. There was no clear commitment so whatever I may have seen, I couldn’t accuse you of cheating or infidelity.” Aashi said simply as she removed the comforter and got up to sit on the bed with her back against the wall.
Om’s breath became rapid as he felt goosebumps rise all over his body. He got up from the floor and sat next to her. “Commitment? What we have been doing for the past two and a half months is meaningless? You think I have no regard for it? Why aren’t you angry at me for what you just saw? Why are you not lashing out at me and asking me for an explanation?”
“Because I don’t know if I have the right.” Aashi said in a quivering voice as a lone tear escaped her right eye.
Om looked at her in disbelief. He took a deep breath as he thought carefully. “Serendipity” he said eventually. “You wanted me to find a one word name for you instead of pleasant surprise. I thought and thought and finally found this word to express best, what you mean in my life. A pleasure to my mind, body, and soul, that I wasn’t seeking but that I found, to make me complete. ”
Om turned to look at her as more tears rolled down her cheeks. He continued, ” I told you Aashi, I don’t flirt casually leave alone kiss or almost make love to a woman without it meaning anything. I was committed to you the night we almost consumed each other in my studio. Ever since then, I have thought, breathed, loved, and lived you. I have never ever shared this connection with anyone in my life. Never. And because of that I believe that you are my first and only true love. You are what my life had been missing in order to become complete. I realized it slowly but surely. That woman you saw in my office today, trying to encroach upon the mere body of your private property, was my ex-girlfriend, who having seen the promotions of the gallery everywhere came to see if there was somehow a chance for her to be back in my life. I had been ignoring her calls all week and I wanted to talk to you about it when you called me earlier today. I did not like it that I was receiving calls from her and you knew nothing about it because Aashi, I think without realizing it, in my studio that night, I married you in my heart. Ever since then, I have been behaving like a married man, feeling utterly comfortable around you and restless that you are not next to me every single night and every single morning. When I told her to get the hell out of my office as I had moved on, she made one final attempt to physically connect with me and you came in just as I was about to push her away. Do you trust me? Do you believe what I said?” Om asked her anxiously. Given her past, what she had witnessed in her father’s treatment of her mother, and what she knew of Tej’s treatment of Jhanvi, it was imperative that she believed him for them to move forward in their relationship.
Aashi looked carefully into his eyes for a while. “Yes. I believe you. I trust what you just said. Now what?”
Om looked at her in complete frustration.” Now you will agree to marrying me in front of the world in the regular way. Enough is enough. Your thinking time is almost up. You did not know for sure that you were going to be successful as an interior designer but you took a chance upon it because it’s what you loved to do and had faith in yourself. If you love me half as much as that, take a chance upon me and have faith in my absolute love for you. Marry me. Don’t deny your feelings and refuse me for the fear that our relationship might not work out. If it doesn’t, we will tackle it together. We will figure it out then. At least we will have a few years of complete bliss to remember. There are many who can’t have even that. And I am saying that to convince you. Because I know for sure that this is forever and I’ll never let you go. And that means NEVER. So say yes, now or …”
“Or what?” Aashi asked curiously.
Om looked around trying to figure out what to say next. Then he got up and went and locked the door to the study from inside. He came back to her and held her tightly in his arms. “Or I won’t let you get out of this room.”
All of Aashi’s tension got released at his ridiculous solution.
“You won’t let me out of this room! And what will you do in here with me?” She bit her tongue as soon as that question was out of her mouth. She had given him a nicely wrapped gift in that question.
He tightened his grip on her and came closer to her face. “I can think of a thing or two that I could do with you and that I have been dreaming of every night and several days.”
“Bhaiya will be back soon.” She tried to bluff as he came even closer, sliding his right hand inside her shirt.
“I know he is out of town for a meeting and won’t be back until tomorrow. The maid will knock and leave. Until tomorrow is plenty of time for me to carry out my plans.” he said huskily.
“You are sinister!” Aashi said in mock horror.
Om smiled at her devilishly. “You can’t even begin to imagine just how much. I have had plenty of frustrated nights to devise various plans.” he said as he kissed her deeply, lowering her on her back, never breaking the kiss even for a second. Eventually, he pulled back, to look at her face right below his.
“Yes.” She said gasping a little.
“Yes, I will marry you and I believe it will be forever. And whatever troubles we face, we will tackle them together.”
Om smiled mischievously. “Good answer. But you took too much time. You need to pay the penalty.” he said and went ahead to carry out one of his several plans for her.
Thanks for reading Everyone. The final chapter of Serendipity is here. It is a long chapter. I thought of breaking it in two parts but then chucked the idea for the fear of compromising the flow of the story. I tried my best to make OmAashi’s story and relationship complete. Hope it won’t be a disappointment. Rumya are on their journey of realization and I will develop a story for them and Priyanka-Shikhar. I would like to k ow though, how many of you are interested in that. I will post an epilogue in a day or two to wrap up this story completely. Please comment on this chapter if you can.