Romance and all is strategy,
Leaves me battling with my pride.
But through the insecurity
Some tenderness survives.
At times I’d like to break you
And drive you to your knees.
At times I’d like to break through
And hold you endlessly.
[Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill]
All through the wedding function, she seemed very distracted. People tried to ask her what was wrong, but Riddhima, knowing of the emotional tempest going on inside her, diverted them to the best of her abilities.
“Nikki, what’s wrong with you?” Armaan asked in concern when Riddhima was not around after the wedding rituals.
“Nothing…just a headache.”
“You want to go home?” he asked quietly, seemingly innocent but she knew how he intended to prod her till she caved.
“I’ve to leave…” she suddenly got up and made to leave.
“Wait…I’ll drop you home”, he offered with a smile.
“No…I can go alone”, she answered.
“Nikki, are you sure…?”
“Yes”, she replied crisply and walked off to the door even before he could say anything more. He stared after her, biting his cheek and thinking of what exactly could have made her so jumpy. She was definitely hiding something…and very well too.
Her hands trembled as she opened the door to Abhi’s house with his keys. It was late, and she wondered if he was asleep by now. She had explanations to offer him. In what words, though, she didn’t know.
The house was eerily silent. She saw the door to his room open, and upon taking a peek she found him asleep.
A visit to the kitchen plainly told him he hadn’t bothered to have dinner, and so she tied the dupatta around her waist and set off to cook something.
“Abhi!” a small hand shook him, and he sat up suddenly, rubbing his eyes groggily.
Nikki stood before him, hair done up in a messy ponytail, one hand still on his shoulder. She looked a vision in white.
“Dinner”, she pointed a tray of food on his side table.
Thoughts, questions, and memories rushed back to him – all equally beautiful and disturbing.
Silently he took the tray and started eating without glancing at her again. He saw from the corner of his eye that she had sat down as well, a tray of food on her lap.
Curiosity got the better of him.
“You didn’t eat there?”
She still appeared to be angry. “No”, was the prompt reply he got as she went back to eating.
His eyes narrowed but he refrained from saying anything further. Her cold answers hit him like knives.
He noted the red mark on her neck, and remembered exactly how it happened…it brought a dark red colour to his own cheeks, something he tried his best to hide from her.
Gritting his teeth against the weakness that crept up once more inside him, he went back to his dinner but realised he had an empty plate.
He stared at it, biting his lip slightly, not knowing what else to do.
She took the plate from his hand and walked away in a few moments, but he continued to stare at his hands which had been holding the tray.
Her coldness made him feel almost numb. What was he supposed to do if she was so distant?
His musings were interrupted by her voice. “Your medicines”, she said, handing them to him along with a bottle of water.
He took them quietly, hurtful anger building up inside him bit by bit. He wanted to grab her shoulders and shake the life out of her, scream at her and shove her against the wall to get an answer out of her but her behaviour made him detached with his own emotions.
“I’m staying in the guest room for the night, call me if you need anything”, she said once he finally looked up at her. He was surprised to find tenderness in her eyes despite the hardness in her voice.
He stared at her in silence, for the first time his eyes not penetrating hers in search of something. She stared back, her expressions guarded.
A question floated in his chocolate brown orbs, incomprehensible to them both. It was something that they both were trying to escape, an answer they wanted to coax from the other.
“Goodnight”, she spoke in a small voice and turned to leave.
Suddenly out of impulse he reached out but as she moved away he could only grab her dupatta.
She slowed down for the fraction of a second, but didn’t stop. She didn’t even look back, but simply continued walking.
The dupatta stayed in his hands, and his eyes followed her till she disappeared around the corner.
He looked down at the dupatta, caressing the soft silky material in his palm. Raising it up to his face, he breathed in the fragrance. It smelled of her.
He let out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding and leaned back till he was lying on the bed. He played with the dupatta, letting the soft white cloth flow over his hands, as if feeling the ghost of her soft skin in it.
Everything was so complex now…more than ever. The feelings they harboured for each other had been raging inside for months, but the physical intimacy that they shared today had complicated it further.
He covered his face with the dupatta and breathed in her scent, thinking. What was she thinking? Why was she so cold? How could she be so indifferent to what just happened between them? And what was he supposed to say or do now?
She walked into the guest bedroom, changed, and lay down on the bed. The room had his stamp on it. A dull pain throbbed in her chest. How she wished he was holding her as she lay.
It had taken everything she had inside her to stay so indifferent to him. She didn’t know why she did it. She just knew that she needed to hear him say something first.
And he was the kind to do it. She had expected him to taunt her, prick her with the most hurtful of questions, to keep pestering her for answers, be rough and adamant, but she had definitely not expected him to be so quiet about it. It unnerved her, and made her more determined to get it out of him first.
The light from the lamp on the bedside table cast an eerie golden glow all over the room. She had a phobia of the dark, but she didn’t know why, out of a sudden overpowering impulse, she reached out and turned off the light, plunging the room in darkness.
The instinctive fear that gripped her insides pricked tears in her eyes, and pulled the covers up to over her ears, turning to her side and pulling her knees to her chest.
She hated how she had been so uncommunicative with Abhi today…she hated the fact that she had knowingly, and intentionally hit him where it hurt the most. She hated how she needed to scare herself, bring out her deepest fear, in order to distract herself from the guilt nagging at her heart.
Her breathing ragged slightly, she turned her face into the pillow, taking deep breaths to calm herself down. Her lungs didn’t fill with as much oxygen as she would have liked them to, even though she sucked in air with all her might. One hand balled itself into a fist, while the other gripped the pillow so hard as if her life depended on it.
She didn’t make a sound, as the suffocating silence in the room muffled even her breathing, and the warring tears finally won the battle against her will, slipping down through her tightly pressed eyelids. Her jaw taut, teeth gritted, she just let it out.
And by the time she was asleep, the pillow cover was salty with all the tears that she had shed.
He fell asleep, the bedside lamp still on. The dupatta still covered his face, and despite the turmoil inside him, he breathed peacefully in his sleep, inhaling her scent which filled his senses.