back on instinct. But Bihaanwas not jumping up and shouting at her, like he usually would. He was watching her through squinted eyes but there was no anger in their depths. Onlypain.”What… what were you… doing?” heasked, voice thickand wordsslurred.He could barely talk.And he obviously had problems concentrating on her,if the way he was blinking continuously and furrowing his brows was any indication.Howhad that guy managed to stand still down there in the gardenwhile opening her fast? How had he not tipped over – or let out on how muchpain he was enduring?Unbelievable.”I-I was just…” shetrailed off into a surprised gasp when she noticed his palms.They weredrenchedin blood. So much…oh, God. That was why he had worn gloves. To hide his injuries. How-?”Bihaan!” In a matterof seconds, she was sitting right next to him, both his wrists engulfed by her fingers.”W-w-whatdid you do? We h-ha-have to treat th-thi-this! You should have s-s-seen a doctor b-b-by now!””Couldn’t,” he breathed out. “Your fast, remember?”
Thapki’s heart stopped beating fora split second.What?Bihaan’s face was open, his eyes half-lidded, sweat glistening on his forehead. No lie tainting his features. Right now,he looked so much like achild. Hiding nothing and being honest butnot shy about it- he meant what he had said. That he hadn’t visited a doctor because he had had to breakThapki’sfast.Shame stirred deep inside of her as sheremembered what she had been about to do, earlier, whilst believing that Bihaan didn’t carein the slightest that she had been hungry and thirstythe whole day due tohim. Then again, he had always enjoyed proving her wrong,hadn’t he? She took acalming breath,focus, Thapki, and said,”Then I-I-I’ll call one. I’ll d-d-do it im-“”No!” His thumb andforefinger caught theedge of her saree where it covered her middle, stopping her mid-motion. He was shaking his head.”Don’t. Not now… or everyone will… will find out.””But I-“”Please!”Thapki closed hermouth, stunned. Bihaanneverpleaded. And he had never looked this desperate,thisscaredfor anything before, either. A lump rose in her throat, thick and heavy. Shesighed in defeat.”Al-alr-alright. Butat least sh-shi-shift to thebed. Come!”Again, he shook his head and even inched away when she reached out for him.”Can’t.””Why not?!” she cried out in frustration.The left corner of his mouth curled upwards.”Can’t sleepon… on the bed when… when chukchuk… gaadi’s on the floor! This is… isabout my honor!””Don’t be ri-ridi-ridiculous!” She caught hisarm and tugged at it. “You’ll f-fe-feel better on the bed.”Bihaan didn’t budge.Stubborn fool. “Ifyoucan… shleep down here,” he slurred heavily, “Ican, too.””This is not a c-com-competition, Bihaan. S-stop-stop beingstubborn.””Nooo.”Frustrated,Thapki let go of his arm. Why did he have to bethis adamant about theirsleeping arrangement? He wasburningup, for Heaven’s sake! “L-l-look, I-I won’t sleep on the f-fl-floor, tonight, okay?” Surely, Dadi would let her stay inher room for one night.Bihaan pursed hislips in thought and staredat her warily as iftrying to find out whether she was lying or not.”Really?”She nodded but, still, Bihaan seemed unwilling to move. Though, atlast, he propped himself upon his elbows, with muchdifficulty.
Thapki, instinctively, gripped his arm and, after a heartbeat of hesitation,moved it over her shoulder. Bihaan grunted in surprise. There was an awkward moment of silence lingering around them, a moment inwhich her body and mind slowly processedtheir closeproximity. It was such astrangefeeling, unfamiliar yet…”Sss!” Bihaan hissed, hisbreath fanning over Thapki’s right cheekbone, snapping her out of her frozen state.She stareddown and noticed that Bihaan had put his foot down, probably trying to stand up. Remembering the blisters which covered the skin on the sole… She quickly stood up, and tried to balanceher weightandsome of Bihaan’s as she maneuvered him towards his bed. Judging from how taut his muscles were and the hissing noises that left his mouth again and again, each step had to be hurting unbearably.How couldyou have stood still down there and opened my fast? Why wouldn’t you let anyone see?Once Bihaan was sitting on the mattress, Thapki picked up his legs and put them on the bed, as well.”L-la-lay down,” she instructed.”I will g-g-get new bandages.”Bihaan didas told without any protest.Thapki gotthe first aid kit Bihaan himself had used. Taking outanother bandage, the hurriedto the bathroom and carefully moistenedit with cool waterbefore rushing back. She was no doctor hence, shehad to be extra careful notto worsen the situation.”This m-mi-might hurt,” shewarned her new patient as she gentlypeeled off the poorly wrapped bandages on the feetto replace them with new ones. Her fingers were shaking allthe while and when she looked up, once, she saw that Bihaan was biting down on his lower lip in orderto keep quiet. She moved evenmorecarefully.The burns weren’tasbad as she had feared, at first. But they were not light, either, though she had no idea whether they needed professional treatment or not – not that Bihaan would agree to that, in hiscurrent state.”W-wha-what did you even do?” she wondered out aloud.”I th-tho-thought that you f-fo-foughtwith someone but… th-these are not f-f-from a fight.”Bihaan was breathing heavily, eyes unfocused, and for a second, she was doubtful whether he was listening. Whether he wasableto. But then, he said,”You alwaysh think… theworsht of me.”It didn’t sound like an accusation, no anger apparent between the words,but more like a somber conclusion.Sad, in a way. Thapki swallowedaround thelump of foreign emotions in the back of her throat, and leaned away a little to inspect her work. He wouldn’t be able to walk for some time, that much was clear.”D-do I have a-an-any reason notto?”A low, sorrowful chuckle escaped Bihaan’s mouth yet,he didn’t reply.
Thapki used the ensuring silence to move up and take his right hand into her own, placing it in her lap. She retrieved acotton ballfrom the kit and dabbed it with a littleof the onlydisinfectant available.”Thiswillhurt.” And hurt it definitely did; Bihaan’s whole body tensed thevery moment the cotton ball touched his palm, and his breathing became further erratic. Buthe didn’t jerk away which Thapki took as a sign to continue.”P for p-punishment,” Bihaan croaked, suddenly. He held uphis free palm and stared at italmost as if fascinatedby all the blood.”You oncheasked…What punishment would… would you give yourshelf for… what you did to me?” Thapki froze. “Thishis the punishment… I gave to myshelf.”Thishis the punishment… I gave to myshelf.Dread, icy cold, pooled into Thapki’s veins. Bihaan’s hand slipped from her grip, landing back downinto her lap, and she staredat it, eyes wide and disbelieving. Her insides gave a sharp, painful tug.She remembered that incident. Right afterBihaan had tried to feed Babaji hot coals, he had confronted her about her decision to let the man off without punishment- and she had asked him,provocatively, that if he were soeager to hurt the man for making her eat burning coals, what would he do to himself forruining herlife? She hadneverbelieved that Bihaan would remember her words let alone…Dear God.Whywould he do such a thing?”Look.” Bihaan wiggled his bandaged feet, wincing slightly at the motion. “I took pherashh… with these feet… sho, Iburntem.”Thapki pressed her lids closed and turnedher face away, didn’t want tohearany more.”And theshe handsh,” Bihaan continued,unaware of her inner turmoil.”Put a mangalshutra around… around your neck. And filled your maang-“”S-st-stop it, Bihaan,”she whisperedhoarsely.”Juststopi-i-it.” She couldn’t listen to this.Slick fingers engulfed her wrist and seconds later, she found herself hovering herself over Bihaan, their noses almost touching. Her breathhitched with surprise.A glassy yet, strangely alert gaze roved overher. Open and honest. And still, veiled withexhaustion. Did Bihaan realize what he was doing? Somehow,she was sure that had he been by his full senses, hewould have neverlet all these things slipfrom his tongue.The tips ofhis free fingers grazed