Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Handle with Care

Shreya walked in to the party and looked around. There were many familiar faces, faces that she had avoided and run away from. But though she had made new friends and moved on in life, the tug of the old was strong.

She smiled at the first familiar face that caught her eye and walked with quiet dignity. His eyes popped out and he rushed towards her with outstretched arms. The hostess, who had met her quite accidentally, managed to tug the right strings and lure her to attend the party, also saw her and hurried to welcome her.

Shreya maintained her poise though her heart was beating very fast and she wanted to quickly hide herself again. It was wonderful to be among friends, but not all of them at the same time. She stood still as she sensed more and more people eagerly converging towards her to greet her. She glowed with warmth and at the same time she felt nervous.

A drink or two loosened her up enough to be able to chat with her friends.

"Well, well..." she heard a voice behind her suddenly and her heart leaped to her mouth. The colour drained from her face and she went rigid. She had thought she was prepared for this moment, but obviously, she had underestimated his power over her.

The person she was talking to looked discomfited and melted in the crowd as she slowly turned to face the new entrant.

She crossed her arms and looked at him defiantly. It was hard to maintain that posture. She was stunned at how her heart still went flip-flop on seeing him. But now, she hoped to use her head more.

"What have we here! Ghost or Madam Rhea in flesh!" he drawled.

Shreya flinched when Ranjan called her Rhea - it invoked an intimacy that she did not care for right now.

"Shreya," she said sharply. "Rhea is reserved for people I am close to," she added uncompromisingly.

His one eyebrow rose up a little. She set her jaw against softening.

"I thought I was one of them." He was laughing at her.

"Was... that's the operative here," she said in a low, vehement voice.

He was silent for a beat. "Can that ever change?" he said.

She swallowed, fearing she would weaken. "Trust me, it can."

She walked away, feeling all the hurt and anger returning. She was not ready yet for this. She quietly slipped into the night, heading towards the car with purposeful strides. She opened the door and heard footsteps. She paused and looked up. A shadowy form went around the car and slipped into the passenger seat. The light came on and she stared at him.

"Get out, Ranjan. Out," she said, without getting in. But he wouldn't.

"We have to talk," he insisted.

"Does your wife know you are here?" she asked, half mocking, half angry.

"If she is watching, she will..." he said carelessly.

She laughed maliciously. "She is learning fast, isn't she? Has detectives watching you?"

"Where she is, she doesn't need them."

Shreya frowned without comprehending. Intrigued, she got into the driving seat and started the car. "So you want to get away...?" she glanced at him.

He chuckled wryly but did not reply. "Where did you vanish to?" he asked instead. It was her turn to be silent. She realised she was heading towards her hideout, and did not want him to see the place. She veered the other way and drove aimlessly. "I am waiting," he said.

"You can," she said indifferently. "Doesn't mean a thing to me," she said trying to sound cool.

She heard him inhale deeply. "Yes, I know that too well. And still I come back, like a fool!" he said with unexpected bitterness.

"You didn't, I did," she pointed out.

"You left, I didn't," he retorted.

"You wanted me to leave," she said relentlessly.

He laughed louder. "I wanted you to leave, indeed... As if I could make you want to do anything."

"You were at it, all the time. Almost waiting for that moment when I would give up, would leave."

"That's just not true!" he exclaimed angrily. There was silence, heavy and pregnant. She stubbornly shut her mouth tightly, not wanting to be drawn into an argument about the past she was trying hard to forget.

"You know you are all that I cared for!" he said finally, in a voice that made her want to stop the car and hug him.

She drove with better self-control, moved to the kerbside and parked. She turned to him slowly. "What a fine way to show your care. First you came close, then you kept pushing me away, sure that I will leave, that I will cheat, that I will stop loving you. I tried not to give in, I tried to remain strong for the two of us. I knew you had your demons, your mother leaving you when you were young made you wary. When you didn't succeed, you started seeing that woman, made sure I knew about it... Pretended to be careful, but you were not, were you? You made sure I left. And now that you aren't happy with her, you are doing the same thing. You know she is watching you, and you make sure she sees you with me..."

"She is dead," he said.

She didn't understand him. "Sorry?"

"She is dead."

"Died of weariness?" she asked angrily. She didn't know what she was angry about, but she was angry, very angry. As if her death had deprived her of an opponent.

"She couldn't give me what I wanted, but she gave me something else... Assurance, which you never could."

"Because she refused to go?"

"Because she left before her time," he said. "Death took her away before anyone else could. And I realised what a fool I was. You were alive. I was alive. If only we had a chance. Before death takes us away."

She turned front, her eyes on the road. She thought of the past year, of the struggle she had gone through. She had longed and longed for this moment. And now it was here, he was here, telling her he wanted her back, telling her what she wanted to hear.

"Glass," she whispered. "Thick glass. You keep banging it on the floor, knowing it can break, waiting for it to break, wanting it to break. When it breaks, you want it back whole. Is it possible, Ranjan?" she asked softly. She turned to look at him, her eyes filled with tears, her voice regretful, but her heart made up. She shook her head slowly.

He remained silent, his breathing hard, his eyes fixed ahead, his lips stubbornly silent. He looked tired, defeated.

She started the car, wanting to leave him behind before she gave in. "Where shall I drop you?" she asked, resisting the urge to go back.

Also published at: http://heroinchic.weebly.com/blog/handle-with-care-by-meera-srikant

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