Of course, she did not expect him to call her in the interim, and yet, isn’t hope what everyone lives by?
Her friend Ritu helped her dress up for the occasion, teasing her all the while. Kirti tried to grin and bear, but her friend knew her better. “What is this! The bride to be looking so pensive! Where is the glow?” she asked bluntly at one point, contradicting others who streamed in and claimed Kirti had the ‘bridal look’.
“Just tensed,” Kirti evaded.
“You must be too. What a great catch!”
Kirti’s eyes flashed as she asked tartly, “Why, am I not one?”
Ritu looked surprised. “I didn’t mean that.”
“Then stop saying it as if getting married to Sanjeev is a stroke of luck I don’t deserve.”
Ritu placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder and said, “Is everything alright? I have never heard you so angry all my life.”
Kirti took a deep breath in. “Sorry, no, I didn’t mean to lose my temper. But the way people go on… As if Sanjeev is some god and I should be eternally grateful.”
Ritu’s eyebrows knitted. “Well… aren’t you?” Catching a sharp look from Kirti, she said quickly, “I mean, if you were in love with him, that’s how it would be.”
Kirti was silent, pensive. “I was,” she whispered.
She would be called away any second, but Ritu pushed her against the wall and asked softly, “Was? Why was?”
Kirti told Ritu about the dinner, the absence of calls…
Ritu laughed. “Stupid you. That’s all!”
“What do you mean, that’s all?”
Ritu pushed her in front of the mirror and went about straightening Kirti’s lehenga and dupatta. “It is to be expected, of course. You have seen Neelam, right? Not easy, is it, to forget her.”
Kirti found nothing reassuring in that. “And what are you smiling for?”
“I am sure it is only to be expected that he still may have some feelings for her. The question is, are you going to let him off so lightly?” Her eyes twinkled and she winked at Kirti through the mirror. Kirti blushed and despite the tears glistening in her eyes, smiled.
As she stood next to Sanjeev a while later, she looked so radiant that a little bit of her lustre reflected off Sanjeev’s face too. The sharp angles of his grave face were blunted by an inexplicable softness. When she looked at him with uncertain eagerness as he slipped the ring through her slender finger, he looked just a bit startled, as if confused by the question they gently posed.
It was hard for her – as if trying to get a response from the wall. Womanly wiles were not her way, but she was learning fast. In the rush of the evening, she felt compelled to win him over.
But as the guests left one by one, she realised slowly that battling for his attention was not the purpose of her life. That she wanted some reciprocation, some effort from his side too. Was an evening too short a time to expect it? But it wasn’t just an evening, right?
She felt tired and confused. She drifted to the balcony, hoping for some quiet time.
“Quite an evening,” a voice broke through her reverie. Startled, she turned and made out the figure of Sanjeev leaning on the far side of the balcony. He was in the shadows, and she wondered if he had been hiding from people. There had been too much ribbing, as was usual, and it had got overwhelming as some bawdy numbers were belted out after the ceremony. A bit filmy, but to be expected from the actor-father of the bride-to-be.
She giggled uncomfortably. “Yes… Tiring…”
He looked towards the lawn and remained silent. Her heart beat fast. “Sanjeev,” the name rushed out of her mouth. “You… you don’t seem very happy.”
He looked at her quickly and glanced away. “Really? I am sorry if I seem preoccupied…” She waited and almost gave up hope of his saying anything more when he chuckled and said, “I am sorry to disappoint you. You would have liked to be wooed…”
“Well… a little bit of conversation would have been nice, yes,” she said weighing her words carefully, watching his face keenly.
“I am sorry to disappoint,” he said again.
“Sanjeev… Can I ask you something?” she asked, her voice tight.
“Do I have the freedom not to answer?” he asked trying to sound light-hearted. But deep down, he hoped he had that freedom.
“Are you really happy about… us?” she asked in a rush, not even pausing to hear his question.
He turned to look at her. He opened his mouth and closed it again. The silence weighed heavily on her. She desperately wished he would answer.
And then, when she heard his answer, she wished he had not.
“No,” his voice was soft but cut through the soft night like a knife.
Continued The Conversation - Part IV