Inside my skin
There is this space
It twists and turns
It bleeds and aches
Inside my heart
There’s an empty room
It’s waiting for lightning
It’s waiting for you
I am wanting and
I am needing you
To be here
Inside the absence
(“Absence Of Fear” by Jewel Kilcher)
“Where’re you going?” he asked the ceiling.
“I’m going to Dr. Keerti’s wedding”, she answered and got up, picking up her clothes from where they had been thrown around the room.
He followed her around with his eyes. “But weren’t you saying that you don’t want to go there? I asked you in the morning.”
“Yes, I did say that. But now I’m saying that I want to go”, she replied curtly, irritation seeping into her.
“It’s late. Won’t the wedding be over?”
“No…There’s still an hour for it to begin”, she answered as she pulled her kurti over her head, minutely surprised at her lack of embarrassment even though he was plainly staring at her.
“Oh”, was all he said.
“Armaan called, didn’t he?” he asked her as she went around searching for something.
She froze for a fraction of a second, before answering with a short “yes”.
“I’m taking your car. I’ll be staying here tonight…you’re hurt and you’ll need someone to be here”, she told him matter-of-factly as she picked up his keys from the drawer and walked out with him staring after her, wondering what the hell had just happened to her.
His gaze remained fixed at the door she had walked out of, before he let out a sigh and went for a cooling shower.
“Nikki!” she was instantly enveloped in a hug by Armaan as the rest of her friends crowded around her, asking if she was okay.
“We were really worried!” Riddhima gave her a hug immediately after Armaan released her.
“Yeah, you could’ve informed us…” said Anjali and the others nodded.
“How’re you? Armaan was saying that you’re ill?” Atul asked in concern.
“Oh nothing, just a headache…” she smiled at him.
“Hey…what’s that on your neck? Did you get hurt during the riots or…?” Armaan’s gaze turned all the more suspicious as he concentrated on something on her neck, which was thankfully half hidden by her long hair.
“Huh? What?” she felt the place he was staring at and felt her cheeks burn as she pulled her hair over it even more to cover it. “Oh, nothing…just a rash…” she hoped she sounded convincing.
“Are you sure?” he tried to remove her hair from there but she smacked his hand away.
“It’s nothing Armaan.” She said sternly.
“Now I should go change…I’m already late”, she plastered a cheerful smile on her face and they dispersed with “oh right”s and “yeah”s.
In the dressing room, Riddhima quietly walked up to Nikki when they were alone.
“Nikki?” her one worded question was enough to tell the other girl what she wanted to know.
Nikki cleared her throat. “Give me a churidaar, Riddhima. I won’t wear that saree I was supposed to.”
She quietly brought a pretty white churidaar for her, and asked. “You want to hide that love bite with the dupatta, don’t you Nikki?”
Her shocked fumble with the clothes once she heard the question told Riddhima that she was right.
“Dr. Modi?” she prodded warily, not knowing if she should venture into the topic.
“Yes”, came her curt but quiet reply.
“Why didn’t he come tonight?” she put a hand on Nikki’s shoulder. She appeared stiff.
“He’s hurt”, Nikki looked at her.
“What?” she asked in concern. “What happened?”
“He fought off a few goons who were leeching at me during the riots”, Nikki’s weakness showed starkly.
Riddhima’s eyes widened. “Oh…is he alright?”
“Not exactly…he got a few bad bruises”, she said, her voice heavy.
“Nikki…don’t worry, he’ll be fine”, she sat down beside her and put an understanding arm around her shoulder. “You’ll take care of him.”
She simply sighed.
“But…Nikki…about that mark on your neck…” she continued uneasily after a while. “…Armaan is pretty suspicious. I can tell that.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Did you…” Riddhima’s eyes went as round as saucers as she watched the deep red climb steadily up Nikki’s cheeks.
The shower didn’t help. All that ran in his mind was the moments they had shared today, and how she had simply gone to the wedding responding immediately to Armaan’s call yet not giving him a second thought…or an answer.
Freshened up yet not feeling any better, he patted himself dry with the towel and looked himself in the mirror, observing the face that stared back at him. He looked tired…and very much so.
Walking back to the bed, aching all over and emotionally drained, he just fell asleep.
“Nikki…you and Dr. Modi…slept with each other?” Riddhima said, her voice getting fainter with every word.
She remained quiet and just nodded.
Riddhima stared in shocked silence.
“Nikki…you two…and…I mean…” she spluttered, at a loss for what to say.
“So…everything is alright between you two now?” she asked apprehensively after an uncomfortable pause.
“I don’t know…” she shook her head and got up, fixing her hair.
Riddhima didn’t press the topic anymore but something told her a silent storm was brewing between the two.