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Om looked at her sleeping peacefully in the hospital bed. Once he had brought her to the hospital, she had been given painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs for the pain and swelling from injury and local anesthetic and sedatives to prevent pain from the procedure on her foot. It had taken a little over two hours for the doctor to remove the splinters and stich up the gash on her foot. She had a severe sprain that required tight bandage around her right ankle and heel but fortunately there was no fracture. She was going to have to use crutches to move around for a week after which she would be given a thick, padded, shoe to help her walk. The doctor had advised to limit her walking to minimum possible. Om took all information in writing as he knew she was going to resist any assistance.
As he waited for the sedatives to wear off, Om recalled the moment her foot had gone through that step. The recollection bothered him terribly. “Why does she have such high tolerance for pain!?” He resolved to find out one way or another. “And why does her pain bother me so much?” he questioned himself. “Well, she is Shikhar’s sister and the accident happened on my premises, that’s why.” Just as he was beginning to feel satisfied with that answer , another question popped in his head.” Why am I constantly trying to get her to smile and laugh.
And why in this world was I flirting with her!That may have been one reason why she was uncomfortable and distracted and went on the stairs without thinking.” Om tried to reason, “Maybe I was trying to make up for the bickering of our first meeting or for the sadness I saw in her eyes while she sat in Soumya’s room. Or maybe because her seriousness hurts Shikhar so much. That’s it! I am doing it all for my old friend. In a way I have caused her accident and now she is my responsibility until she can walk properly and get back to her normal life.” Satisfied with his reasoning Om thought about his conversation with Shikhar after Aishani had gone in for the procedure. Shikhar was in Bangalore for an important meeting and was scheduled to come the next day. He had wanted to come immediately but Om had assured him that Aishani was OK and would be taken care of.
“But Om, I don’t want her to be alone overnight with that injury.”
“I’ll take her to Oberoi Mansion with me.”
“She won’t agree Om. I think, by now, you know her.” said Shikhar dejectedly. “She has a reason to be so headstrong. She was bullied and pushed around for a long time.” There was clear guilt reflected in his voice.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get her to agree without outrightly forcing her. She will be fine.”
“How are you so confident Om? You have known her for barely a week.” said Shikhar very surprised at Om’s assured tone. “We have met after such a long time and it is not like we were best friends even back then. Just cordial friends since you were so reticent.Why are you doing so much for us?”
Om felt uneasy at his question and he had no idea why. “In a way I feel responsible for her accident. Besides, I am not that reticent anymore. Especially since I have become a businessman. As far as friendship goes, is it too late to start a best friendship? I always liked you Shikhar and I like Aishani too. She is genuine, straightforward and refreshing. I care about both of you.”
Shikhar had been silent for a few seconds and had said quietly, “Yes, it’s a great time to start a best friendship. Thanks Om. I’ll start from here early tomorrow morning and will be there latest by noon.”
“Now, I have to think of a strategy to get her to agree to go to Oberoi Mansion for tonight. She will most certainly argue and resist that.” Om thought deeply for a few minutes then picked up his phone and called someone.
Aishani opened her eyes gradually. The room had soft, dim lighting that was soothing. She felt light headed from all the drugs she had been given. “Where the heck am I? And why can’t I feel my right leg!” Then she recalled her accident at the gallery space and everything that had followed until Om buckled up her seatbelt. She turned her head and saw Om sitting next to her bed, reading a magazine. She went through myriads of emotions and felt overwhelmed. ” Om , why can’t I feel my right leg? What did the doctor say? What have they done ? And why am I so groggy?”
Om looked up to find her awake but very drowsy. Without any concious effort to do so, he leaned forward and caressed her forehead and spontaneously said,
“Sorry Aishani.They had to amputate your right leg. But don’t worry. I am here. I’ll always take care of you.”
Aishani’s eyes became very wide with shock. She jerked up to a semi-setting position and removed her sheets to see her bandaged ankle. She turned toward Om indignantly and found him holding back his laughter. “That was very mean of you.” she said angrily.
Om got up from his chair and sat on the bed, right next to her. “Sorry Aishani. I don’t know why I did that. Couldn’t resist it. You are fine.” He told her everything the doctor had said. Then he told her that Shikhar wanted to come immediately but that he had convinced him not to rush. She got a hard look in her eyes at that. “He is not my caretaker. I can manage without him. Thanks for helping me out. I really appreciate it. Please give me my phone so I can call my driver. I’ll give my notes to Shikhar once he is back. By the time I get better, his work on the space will be done. Then I will take over. I promise I won’t let your project suffer due to my injury.”
Om stared at her. Her makeup was all gone and she looked like a petulant child with her dishevelled, long hair loose and hanging around her face and shoulders. “You won’t be staying alone at your home tonight. Either I will stay there with you until Shikhar is back or you will come with me to my home. I am fine with either. But if you come to Oberoi Mansion you will have other people including Soumya to give you company. At your house, it will be just you…and me. Alone. I wouldn’t mind it though. I’ll help you with whatever you need at night. I’ll stay close by. Don’t worry.” he said putting his right arm around her shoulder as he observed her nervous expression and the rapid rise and fall of her chest revealing her quickened breathing. He knew instinctively, based on all their meetings so far, that his closeness made her nervous. He also knew now that at the reception party and today, in spite of her initial resistance, eventually she always agreed with him. He was so satisfied with that observation that he did not wonder why it was so.
Aishani felt her heartbeat racing and nervousness creeping all over her gut. She turned to look at him and saw him smile gently. “That won’t be needed. I only have a foot injury. And I have crutches. I’ll be OK. ” she managed to say without too much stammering.
Om took out the doctor’s written instructions and pointed to the one that mentioned complete bed rest for 3-4 days and minimum movement of the right leg for 10-12 days.
“Doctors always exaggerate problems to avoid blame-game from patients and their families. Besides, I can hire a nurse to help me around the house.” she reasoned.
Om looked her straight in the eyes and with a dead serious expression , said firmly “That can’t happen tonight.Aishani, either you come with me or I will come with you to be your private nurse tonight. Choose one.”
As if on cue , Soumya appeared at the door. “Hi Aishani. Om bhaiya told me what happened. I came as soon as I heard. I am so sorry.” she went around and hugged Aishani as Om looked on seriously. “Come to Oberoi Mansion with us Aishani. Priyanka, I,Anika di, and Saahil, we will all give you great company. Please. We will make this painful time fun.”
Aishani looked from Soumya to Om and back to Soumya. She thought of the two options Om had given her. First she thought defiantly that she did not have to listen to him.She tried to tell herself that he was a nobody but her heart mocked her for lying to herself. She looked at Soumya’s comforting face again.
Om could see her inner turmoil and struggle on her face and he felt bad for her. He wanted to kiss her and comfort her. But he stayed strong and waited for her to give up her resistance. After a couple of seconds , before she said the words, he saw it happen by the expression on her face. He smiled as Aishani said weakly, “OK. I’ll come with you Soumya. Thank you for being so good to me.” Then she turned to look at Om and he saw that her eyes were brimming.Om felt something turn in his heart. He did not know what had happened but he felt sure that something inside him had changed permanently in that moment.
After she had been discharged from the hospital, Om picked her up and put her in a wheelchair provided by the hospital to take her to the car. Om pushed the chair as Soumya walked along side with the crutches. At the car, Om helped her sit in the backseat on the right side.Her crutches were kept in the trunk. Soumya sat next to her. Aishani could see her phone and her folder on the passenger seat in front. Then she realized that her right shoe was missing.
“Must have come off at the gallery space.” she thought casually. Om got into the driver’s seat. She liked the fact that he drove himself rather than keeping a driver. “Give me directions to your home Aishani. We will pickup some of your things you will need while you are with us.” said Om looking at her in the rear view mirror. Then he gave her a paper and a pen.”Make a list while we are driving and write the instructions for Soumya. She will pack for you. ” Aishani quietly took the paper and pen.”Where are your house-keys?” he asked.
“In the dashboard of my car. A maid comes morning and evening to clean and cook but usually I am home by the time she comes for the evening. She must have come and left when noone opened the door.”
Om gave her phone to her. “Call your driver and ask him to be there with your car keys when we get there.”
Aishani took the phone from him and called her driver to give him instructions. Then she gave Om the directions for her home and started making the list as he started to drive. “With the painkillers and sedatives they gave me just before leaving, I won’t last long. Better make this list now. Ask me any questions while I am still awake Soumya.” she said.
They were at her home in about 45 minutes. It was a beautiful, medium sized, bungalow surrounded by a boundary wall. As Om pulled up to the main gate, her driver opened it. Once parked under the portico, Om and Soumya got out of the car while Aishani stayed in there. She had given the list and brief directions to Soumya. Om took the house keys from the dash board of Aishani’s car. He opened the main door and they entered a large hallway with a wall in front. A beautiful massive painting of ocean waves decorated that wall. Just below the painting was a decorative table with a delicate white vase on it. A wide corridor was on on one side of the wall and a staircase with dark burnished banisters on the other side. Om and Soumya walked through the corridor.Inside was an elegantly decorated living room with a gleaming open kitchen on one side and a couple of rooms on the other side.
“Wow!!” said Soumya. “This is one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen. It could be used as an advertisement for Shikhar bhaiya and Aishani di’s firm. No doubt they have designed and decorated it themselves. I’ll ask them.”
The bedrooms, as Aishani had informed them, were upstairs. Soumya went upstairs with the keys and the list to pack.
Om explored the ground floor. The kitchen was compact, well equipped, and sparkling. The door to both of the rooms on the other side was open. Two good sized, fully equipped offices were easily visible. Om entered the one on right first.This room had a large window behind the study table and a reclining chair lay by the window. A beautiful lawn and floral bushes lined the boundary wall outside. In one corner of the room was a nook with a neatly made single bed with a solid, dark, wooden headboard that had been fitted with two reading lights on each side and a switch for the reading lights in the center of the headboard. A half open door next to the nook revealed a full bathroom with a walk-in closet. Om marvelled at the perfect design of the entire floor and the beautiful and sleek interiors and decor. “Soumya is right.” he thought.
Om turned around to go back outside and was surprised by the wall right next to the open door. It faced the front of the cushioned office chair behind the study table. Om walked to that wall mesmerized. It was completely filled with pictures of Aishani and Shikhar from their childhood up to Shikhar’s adulthood. Om guessed that the oldest Aishani must be in one of the pictures was about seventeen or eighteen. She looked beautiful, adorable, innocent, and incredibly cheerful. The pictures revealed a brother-sister equation very different from what was seen now in their interactions. In some of the pictures Aishani was hugging Shikhar, being silly and goofy with him in others, sitting piggyback on him in yet another, and laughing with mouth wide open in one.
There were several pictures from Raksha-Bandhan over the years. Something told Om that the girl in those pictures was the Aashi for whom Shikhar kept craving now. Other than pictures, the wall also had several cards. Some handmade and others bought. The upper flaps were left open. Even though he felt like he was intruding, Om opened the flaps. Each card was full of loving messages addressed to ‘My dearest bhaiya’, ‘ the best bhaiya in the world’, ‘the craziest brother ever’ and other loving epithets. Each card was signed, ‘Love, Aashi.’ Om sighed heavily. What had happened between these two? What had turned ‘bhaiya’ to ‘Shikhar’? And whose office was this? He went back to the desk and saw a notebook lying there and a couple of books on architecture. Each one had Shikhar’s name. “So my guess was right. This is Shikhar’s room and he has created a memory wall for his eyes alone.”
Om stepped out of that room and entered the door to the adjacent room. It was equipped identical to it’s neighbor but it had no memory wall. It was neat and lightly decorated with pastel shades of flowers and curtains. The recliner by the window too had a pastel aquamarine suede upholstery rather than the soft leather in the other study. The sheets and comforter set on the single bed had pastel colored floral patterns rather than plain solid colors in the other room. This was definitely a feminine room. Om walked over to the study table that had among other office supplies, a couple of books on interior decoration and one on basics of architecture. Each book had Aishani’s name on it. Om traced his fingers lightly over her name as if he were caressing her. Just then Soumya called him out.
Om left the room and went outside. “Bhaiya, I am done packing.” she said. She had a large blue canvas bag in her hand. “I over-packed.I want her to stay with us till she is fully recovered but let’s see what happens. No harm in packing.”
Om smiled and took the bag from Soumya. “You are the best. My perfect sister.” said Om affectionately.
They walked out of the house and Om locked the door. He told the driver who was waiting outside that Shikhar would be back the next morning and that Aishani would be at Oberoi Mansion until then. Then he kept Aishani’s bag in the trunk. As Soumya started to get back into the car Om saw that Aishani was fast asleep in her seat. She was sitting with her head resting on the back of the seat, her soft face slightly up-turned, and her hair that looked like a dark-brown satin curtain, partially covering her right cheek. She looked exhausted.Once again he felt something turn in his chest. He had a strong urge to hold her tight. Startled by this sudden surge of emotions, he briskly got into the driver’s seat and started the car. “Hold her Soumya. She is in deep sleep and might fall over if the car takes a turn or if there is a jerk.” said Om. Soumya nodded and shifted closer to Aishani and held her gently. Om drove the car out from under the portico, waved at the driver, and drove out of the main-gate.
Thanks for reading Everyone. Please comment.?