“Jiji, going…..!” Her voice trailed as she ran out of the house.
“Khushi, try to come early… you know, Babuji is coming tomorrow…!” Payal shouted from inside. Khushi had moved out of ear shot. She was already late. “I have to make up the time. The 8:10 bus I missed” Khushi broke into a run towards her bus stop. She thought she missed the bus. She looked around at the deserted bus stop.
“Hmm… I think I should take an auto..!” she looked around on the deserted roads.
“Surprising…! Where is everyone?” she exclaimed. Even the shops were closed.
“What? What happened?” she was puzzled. She looked around. A person with news paper was standing at the other side of the road. He looked up at her. She pointed at the bus stop and gestured a question mark. He waved at her signaling there is no bus. She banged her forehead.
“Hey Devi mayya! Now what? No Bus? What am I going to do? That Monster will eat me alive if I am late…!” she muttered praying her devi mayya. That man had crossed the road.
“The busses are called off the road…. There is unrest…!” he gave her the news.
“Hmm… Unrest..! big deal…! Its everywhere!” she blurted making faces.
“Now the auto wala will take advantage of this…!” she muttered furiously looking out for an auto.
“Autos and taxies too are called off. Go home!” the man advised her.
“What? Go Home! And do what? Lose a month’s pay?” she remembered a clause that she will not have any leaves..! .. the damage will be assessed by the Monster himself…. She clenched her fists. Looked at the time and started walking briskly.
“Five Kilometers… It will take 40 minutes…I will be late only by half an hour… That Monster comes half an hour late … “ she started calculating almost running …
“Hey Devi mayya… Let him be late today…! Others I can manage…! Please.. please… RAKSHA KARANA…!” she prayed loudly. There was no one one the road.
*********** ********* ********
ASR walked in AR Design’s office exactly at 8:30, half an hour earlier. People had not yet come. The office boy gave him a cup of coffee and the news papers…! He looked around. His classy office looked huge and empty. He focused on the headlines. He picked up the phone.
“Di… you have an appointment today. I forget to remind you!” he said in a soft voice.
“… Please take Jijaji with you!” he requested her.
“Chote, I know, and he is coming with me. Don’t worry!” Anjali said sweetly.
“And don’t forget your breakfast…!” she reminded him.
“Yeah Di! Take care!” he disconnected the phone.
Aakash walked in. “Bhai… Got to go for the meeting with Mr. Mehta. I need the file and the copy of MOU.” He said looking at his bhai. He was on business tour for a week and had returned.
“Hmm!” said ASR giving him the file and the papers. Aakash looked up at his Bhai. ASR looked lost. He was gazing unfocused down at her cubical. Aakash too gazed at the cubical.
“Umm bhai, heard about the episode…!” Aakash began the topic. ASR looked at him blankly.
“Umm I mean… its unfortunate…. I mean… I was not there and you had to handle everything…!” he said in a apologetic voice. ASR did not react.
“Bhai…. I mean… I know… you know better… but I still feel she is innocent…” He said softly.
“I mean… she is a misfit here… she is going through difficulties, for no fault of hers…!” unintentionally, Aakash defended Khushi. ASR clenched his fists.
“Umm… Bhai…. I think… I mean… its only a suggestion…” Aakash didn’t know how to tell his big brother.
ASR still had not reacted.
“Umm …. I mean… we should relieve her…. She is innocent!” Aakash gave his opinion finally. ASR glared at him. Aakash had said it genuinely. ASR stared at his brother… Aakash looked away..
“Yeah, Aakash… you are right. She needs to go back with her elder sister. She is from Lucknow…! “ Aakash didn’t understand. He looked at his Bhai.
“Yeah.. I think both the sisters will go back to Lucknow once I relieve her from her duties and clear her of all the charges…. Though the enquiry is not yet over!” ASR put Aakash in confusion. Aakash gaped at him.
“Ok. Aakash… I will plan for this. Will arrange for her and her sister, Payal’s return to Lucknow!” he said looking down at Khushi’s cubical..
“What? Payal ji?” Aakash blurted shocked.
“Yes, Payal is her elder sister and I think both should return to Lucknow, once she is cleared of the charges..!” ASR did not look at his brother. He knew the effect. Aakash froze. The thought of Payal going back made him wince.
“No! I mean… bhai.. umm.. I mean… how can she be relieved? The inquiry is not over yet…!” he blurted… ASR smirked and looked at Aakash.
“Aakash?.. just now you said, she is innocent and she should be relieved…!” ASR nailed his brother.
Aakash avoided his gaze sheepishly and said..
“Um.. I need to prepare for the meeting with Mr. Mehta…!” he went out hurriedly.
“Khushi Kumari Gupta….!” Arnav clenched his fists smirking…!
Aman walked in. “Sir.. the youth agitation has taken a violent turn. Riots broke out in different parts… Many are not coming to the office… Buses are called off the roads…!”
“hmm! Aman, tell them, they need not come… and we got to make arrangements for those who make it to the office…!” Arnav’s thought process triggered. Aman nodded. Arnav switched off the FM radio for updates.
The attendance was very thin. It was quarter to ten and Lavanya walked in.
“ASR! This girl has not turned up. There is no message… This is not done, ASR!” she would never miss any opportunity. ASR looked down at her cubical. He did not react.
“Forget it ASR! We need to prepare for the upcoming conference!” she looked at ASR’s stern face and changed the topic.
After the slap incidence, she had become more cautious, never wanting to spoil ASR’s mood. She was in a very awkward position for several days. ASR being very indifferent towards her and there was a clear polarization in the office. The people against her had outnumbered her friends.
And to rub salt into the wound, Khushi behaved normal, never showing any sign of that incidence. Lavanya was burning with rage but was helpless. She couldn’t gauge ASR. ASR was not at all happy with what she did to Khushi. She had to work hard to patch up with her ASR.
******** ****** ***
“It was quarter to eleven and still there was no Khushi.
“Ok! ASR, I will prepare the notes on this!” Said Lavanya getting up after the discussion. He nodded glancing at the cubical.
“Such a yokel… didn’t even bother to make a phone call. So much of work pending…!” Lavanya muttered. ASR looked at her in shock. “What if she has already left her home and…..!” he winced.
He picked up the intercom. “Aman, send Khushi to my cabin as soon as she comes…!” he ordered. Lavanya smirked. “Chamakili… you will have it… !” she thought and descended.
He lost his focus and kept glancing at the cubical. Twice he picked up the intercom and kept it. The restlessness climbed the peak. He got up from the chair to have a better look at her empty cubical.
“What the!” he blurted in frustration. “Aman call her home, right now!” he ordered picking up the phone.
Aman called back in few minutes… “Sir, she left home in the morning…!” he gave him the worst feared news. He got up with a jerk. “What…? Where is she…!” he picked up his car keys without even thinking twice. “this girl drives me crazy…!” he blurted with rage and anxiety and left his cabin… He was descending and she walked in…
“Khushi…!” he blurted in shock. She looked totally devastated. Her hair pulled out of her hair band, she had a scratch mark on her cheek.. bruises on her elbow, her dress torn on her knees, she walked in limping miserably. Arnav was first one to reach her. She winced in fright.
“S.. Sorry… woh… that car….!” She started off trembling. He held her shoulders.
“Are you ok?” he asked her with genuine concern.
“Ya.. Yes… that.. car..!” she again tried to tell something. His hands slid from her shoulder to her elbow.
“Sh… haa!” a surge of pain winced her. He held her hand…
”Come!” he was hoarse. She looked at him frightened.
“Chamakili… where were you?” Lavanya looked at her with disgust.
“woh… I.. I had an accident…!” Khushi could blurt out something sensible.
“What?” Rekha had reached by then. She took her to her cubical.
“Are you ok, Khushi?” she asked concerned. Khushi nodded. She took her to the restroom. Khushi had minor buises and had sprained her leg. She came back to her cubical after having changed her dress, the one which was provided to her by Regi and a cup of hot sweet tea. Her friends had gathered around her. There was a very thin attendance in the office. ASR was in his cabin, his brain racing to correlate… the enquiry had started a couple of days back after Prashant’s accidental death, Khushi was saying something about the accident…
“No!” he thought the worst. “No! I have to talk to her! …” he looked at Khushi from his cabin.
“Can she climb up to my cabin..?” he was not sure. “I have to ask her…!” he felt trapped. He wished everyone in the office just vanished. “Khushi..!” he blurted in anxiety.
He came down almost in a leap..
“Khushi… he stood before her..!” She struggled to get up in fright. He pushed her back on the chair, took another chair in front of her and putting both his hands on the armrests of her chair asked leaning forward.. “Tell me what happened..!” she looked at his face… she was more scared of him than the actual accident. Words failed her. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She could just purse her lips “u…ummm..” she looked frightened.
“Tell me what happened..!” he asked her in a calmer voice. She winced still lost for words…!
“Tell me Damn it!” he yelled and coming back to his senses brought his voice down.
“Look… tell me what happened..!” he asked her softly looking at her strand of hair on her face. She stuttered … “Woh… no busses… had to walk down… that… that car… dashed…. I fell down….!” She could say. He couldn’t stop himself from touching her elbow. “Khushi…!” he felt her pain.
“Did you see the number?” he asked in a bear whisper.
“Number?” she looked confused. “Car number!” he clarified.
“Car number…?” she looked at his hopeful eyes. “No!” she said looking down.
“Damn it!” he looked frustrated. Taking it as blame on her, she flared up.
“It happened so fast… how can you expect me to see the number…?” she asked angrily. He was taken aback.
“Ar…are you alright?” he asked her in a soft voice. She nodded blinking at him.
“Why did you come to the office..?” he asked her in a worried tone.
“You left me with no choice. I would lose my pay..!” she didn’t leave the opportunity. He suddenly pushed back his chair. “Shut up!” he said and strode over to his cabin.
********* ********* **********
“It wasn’t an accident…!” he concluded. “I should do something….!” He was worried about her safety.
“Why did she have to come to the office, damn it!” he banged his fist on the table. He picked up the phone to talk to the Commissioner.
Someone else had already informed the police about the hit and run case. Khushi Kumari Gupta wasn’t safe….!