“Aree, Aap Jaldi Aa Gaye? How come you came early?” Asked Anjali smiling broadly at Sham. He wrapped his arm around her and said.. “I missed you..!” she blushed. He handed over pack of sweets. She looked at him questioningly. He smiled.
“I won a client, a very important client!” he said. She smiled at him.
“Hello hi bye bye! Anjali, are you going to bring him in or keep him at the door?” asked mami and Anjali blushed again. They both came in.
“Aree Damad ji, there was a phone call for you. Some Rattan Saab! He tried your mobile but couldn’t reach you.. !” Nani said looking at Sham. Sham fumbled.
“Oh! Actually I was supposed to meet him but I couldn’t..!” he started off explaining unnecessarily. Nani had no interest in Sham’s cliental.
“Damad ji, he seemed desperate and angry! You better call him immediately!” she said. He nodded and went inside.
“Rattan Saab! I know, I was suppose to call you, but I couldn’t complete the work, so had nothing to talk about!” he said littlie irritated at the other person’s impatience.
“Look Sham, both of them are in Nainital..! It’s easier there. I will finish her off!” he said angrily.
“No!” Sham said at once. “No! I will handle it! She is a trump card in our hand! We cannot afford to lose her…!” he said gravely.
“Rattan Saab, try to understand….!” He started off explaining.
“You understand!”Rattan snarled. “Do you know? She has reported discrepancies in his company also? All those advance payments we received, under fictitious companies, without bank guarantees, are all unearthed..!” He revealed. Sham was shocked. He did not know that. Lot of things happened behind his back.
“Rattan Saab..” he tried to justify.
“She is not a trump card anymore… she is a danger …! Do something.. else I will have to finish her off!” he threatened. Sham wiped sweat from his forehead.
“Ok! Saab! I will do something. You don’t worry!” he said gravely disconnecting the phone. He came out at the dining table.
“Umm… Raani Saheba.. where is Saale Saab?” he asked casually.
“Oh! He has a conference in Nainital!” she provided the information. He looked away clenching his fists.
‘Hello hi bye bye! Conference makes no difference..! He is with his girlfriend.. Ms Kasyap…! Thumbs up!” Mami wouldn’t leave the opportunity. Aakash looked away in frustration. Sham gaped at Mami. She winked at him. He smiled. There was some mistake. Saale Saab was with his girlfriend… ! Not with Khushi ji? He was confused.
“Oh! Yes and Khushi bitiya is also with them…!” Nani said happily dropping a bombshell on Sham. His dreaded information was confirmed. He was frustrated.
“How much ever I try to keep them away… !” he clenched his fists.
“Aree, what happened? Why do you look so upset?” Anjali asked holding out a cup of tea.
“He must be thinking about his girlfriend, hello hi bye bye!” Nani said shocking everyone and then after a pause revealed.. “You! Anjali! Girlfriend cum wife!” Sham looked relieved.
“Aree, Raani Saheba, this is off season. It rains heavily there..! There is no point going there during this season…!” he said holding Anjali’s hand. She smiled. “I know!” she said blushing.
“I plant to take you to Switzerland, Raani Saheba.. you know? I am arranging for money!” he said looking guilty that he couldn’t arrange for money.
“Hello hi bye bye! Since when you started arranging for money, Damadji.. Why worry when your Raani Saheba is there?” Mami exposed him completely. There was an awkward silence. Then Anjali spoke holding Sham’s hand.
“You know, Sham ji.. whatever is mine is all yours..!” she smiled at him. He smirked looking away. “Yeah! Whatever is yours is mine!” he thought stroking his self fist with right hand and licking his lips.
******** ********* *********
“Shashi Babua, Kya socha hain? Have you thought over it?” Buwaji asked her younger brother, shishi. He didn’t respond. “I am asking you, your wife is also excited about the proposal” she said little loudly.
“Jiji, she is young. I don’t want to think about it now!” he said dismissing the proposal.
“You have to. She is your responsibility, though she is not your daughter. You have adopted her.. Try to understand !” Buwaji tried to convince.
“No! Jiji, I won’t think about her marriage before Payal’s marriage. I am more cautious, this time!” he said gravely.
“Shashi Babua, the more you keep her in the house, you are inviting more trouble. You know, wherever she goes, trouble follows… She needs a person who can control her..! Bad ome…” she was stopped.
“No Jiji! Please, don’t say that. She is my daughter and she is precious, for me! Please, I don’t want to talk about it!” he stopped all the discussion. Buwaji frowned.
“Hope, you don’t regret for keeping her with you!” she muttered disgruntled. Shashi ignored her remarks. He knew how dear and precious Khushi was to him.
********** ****** **********
“How do you feel, now?” Khushi asked her with a cup of coffee. Lavanya took it smiling at her.
“Chamakili, I feel much better..! Thank you!” she thanked her from bottom of her heart. Khushi smiled and moved away taking out her clothes.
“Umm.. Chamakili, I may not be able to attend the first morning session..!” said Lavanya. Khushi understood.
“Ok! I will tell sir!” she said.
“You go!” Lavanya said. “No!” Khushi closed the discussion. There was a knock on the door. Khushi opened the door. He was at the door looking as usual very serious.
“Good morning!” she greeted. He only nodded. He looked at still lying blanket on the couch. She hurriedly tried to gather it with a shy smile. He held out the prescribed medicines. She took them.
“Umm, Lavanya Madam is much better now. Umm.. but may not be able to attend the first session. She is still weak!” Khushi said in a low tone. He nodded and stared at her.
“I will be with her!” Khushi understood his unspoken question. He turned his back.
“Umm.. she is inside..!” Khushi hinted that he should go in and meet her. He looked at her.
“Are you ok?” he asked in a whisper. The night’s argument flashed. She nodded looking down.
“Lavanya!” he was already inside. “ASR!” Lavanya got up and hugged him. He patted on her back.
“Take care!” he said seriously. She nodded. Khushi was in the verandah looking at the snow capped shining mountain peaks far away..! He came out and without even looking at Khushi strode down the stairs. Khushi stared at his vanishing figure. She came inside to be with Lavanya.
“Chamakili, I have a compeering session tomorrow… I don’t know whether I will be able to make it!” Lavanya said panic struck.
“Why not? You will be alright. Here! Sir brought the medicines..!” she said brightly. Lavanya looked hopeless.
“No Chamakili… I am not prepared, I am not confident!” she said.
“You will! Don’t worry!” she said helping Lavanya to get down from the bed.
“will you help me?” she asked. “Yes!” was Khushi’s assurance..!
“You know, I am so scared..!” Lavanya lost her confidence. Khushi didn’t respond. She picked up Lavanya’s littered clothes and started folding them neatly.
“Chamakili, don’t! I will do it!” Lavanya felt guilty. Khushi continued with the work without a word.
They were sitting on the couch.
“You know.. Even my mother wouldn’t have done so much for me!” Lavanya said seriously. Khushi looked at her startled. Lavanya was lost in her thoughts. She didn’t bother about Khushi’s reaction.
“You know, she had a boutique at that time. My father was a UN official, couldn’t stay with us for long. I studied in hostel. Mom never bothered. She was always busy!” Lavanya blurted lost in her own world. Khushi listened staring at the floor.
“You know, even in vacation she used to send me on some US or Europe tour! But whenever she used to be free she used to love me, pamper me! Dad used to sometimes visit us! I used to feel on the top of the world at that time, when we all were together…!” Lavanya continued.
“I always got the best … my clothes, toys, everything…!” Lavanya had a smile on her face.
“Even my boyfriend..! He is the best!” she said dreamily. Khushi looked at her for the first time.
“Yeah..! He is hotheaded, no nonsense person..! but he is the best..! Smart, dashing, handsome, rich!” Lavanya fell short of words attaching superlative adjectives to ASR.
“He does not believe in these stupid concepts.. you know, god, rituals, societal norms, marriage…!” she went on. Khushi gaped at her.
“You know, even I am convinced now! These things are rubbish..!” she said. “He is right… he is always right!” Lavanya said dreamily.
“His family is exactly opposite, contrast!” she said with little disgust looking at Khushi.
“But you know, ASR loves his family! He wouldn’t leave his family, no matter what! I have to stay with them..!” she blurted her inner fears. Khushi didn’t react.
“I feel so out of place there! That Nani ji and Mami ji and that mutton.. Laxmi! How can one think of keeping at goat at home? Disgusting!” she said bitterly.
“Would you like to have something? Light lunch?” Khushi broke her ranting.
“You always think about food, don’t you?” Lavanya asked scornfully. Khushi did not react. She wanted Lavanya to stop ranting about the family.
“Will you be able to attend the evening session?” Khushi changed the subject. Lavanya nodded. Khushi went inside to order lunch.
********** ********* ******
The evening session of second day was a networking session over dinner. People were exchanging cards, shaking hands, having a one on one meeting! Khushi was thoroughly bored. She stayed there only for Lavanya. She was not interested in anything, not even the dinner for she knew it would be something like the last dinner. She eyed on the dessert section. She was sitting at the corner alone not knowing what to do, whom to talk to!
Lavanya had forgotten that she was sick last night and was again ready with a glass of wine. ASR was nowhere to be seen. He was engulfed in talks with other people.
“Hello!” someone occupied the seat opposite her. She looked on startled. A person with a heavy accent and a wine glass smiled at her. She got nervous.
“He..hello!” she said.
“Waldemar..! Waldemar Abendroth.!” He held out his hand. She shook hand.
“Khushi Gupta!” she said.
“Frromm Redigan-imex, for women clothing…! Germany!” he introduced further.
“Haan?” she did not understand anything. “I am from Germany!” he said in a clearer tone.
“India!” she said nodding. “Yoour dreesss is nice..!” he spoke with his limited vocabulary. She looked at her green slawar kurta with beaded embroidery which her jiji had done for her.
She smiled proudly and said.. “Hamari jiji ne banaya hain!” He looked confused.
“My sister made it!” she said clearly and loudly.
“Oh! Nice! I want to see it!” he came around and held her arm and pulled her up. She got scared.
“What?” she tried to withdraw her hand from his grip.
“I want to see the dress…!” he had touched her dupatta. She pulled it with a wrench!
“Hey devi mayya Raksha karana! Protect me from this white man..!” she prayed hard. He moved around her looking at her dress from all the angles..! She was nervous. He placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Yourrr dresss is beautiphul…!” he said smiling at her coming closer. She shrunk. He was invading on her personal zone. She took a step back. He gave her his business card. She took it. She did not have a card.
“No card!” she said sheepishly. Another Indian came around.
“Hello!” he said looking at both of them. He held out his hand. “Ramanand!” he introduced himself. She shook hand with him. He clasped her hand with both his hands. She felt uncomfortable.
“Umm Lavanyaji..!” she called out loudly. Lavanya was out of earshot. Someone came from behind and held her shoulder. She was frightened.
“She represents my company!” came a forceful voice and she felt relieved. She looked at him gratefully and took a step back to vanish from the scene.
“Don’t move!” he spoke under his breath wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She froze.