Vaani was fumbling to reach out to her buzzing mobile on the bedside table, while her little one was clinging to her left hand in deep slumber. “Hello”, she managed to say as she was groggy and tired. The response from the other side shocked her. A shiver ran down her spine. “Not again,” she thought to herself as the long-forgotten voice whispered on the other side of the phone.
“I need your help,” he said, but Vaani was only half concentrating. Her mind was travelling down through the sands of time, dredging up blurry images of broken toys, a garden shed, running by the river, and of course, lots of blood. But there was one face amongst them all, a face so cruel and menacing, a face that she would never forget.
“Yes,” she finally managed to say faintly, “I understand. I’ll be there.”
She knew she had very little time. She had to pretend that everything was fine else her mother would start asking questions. Breakfast was a haze and she was eager to get out of the house as the same loving, cozy, and welcoming home felt claustrophobic and stifling.
The drive in the Uber was a relief as it helped her put her thoughts together. She had no idea how to deal with the situation. The demons she had buried in her past were back to haunt her it seemed. He had asked her to come to Marine Drive at 4PM. That meant she would have to manage her office and her boss, and only then could she leave at 2 PM to reach Marine drive by 4 PM.
After a distracted, challenging day at work, Vaani reached Marine Drive. Ignoring the beautiful sea face, she scanned people’s faces instead, looking for him.
A voice behind her hissed, “I’m here.”
She whirled around. Her steely gaze met his bloodshot eyes.
“You’re looking more beautiful now”, he sneered, trying to touch her cheek. She recoiled.
“You thought I’d gone for good?” He’d read her thoughts.
“No, sweetheart. Just away for some years. Family business.”
He gave a guttural laugh. “Now I’m back. I need money.”
She knew. He saw her questioning look.
“Ah, my darling, I still have those clips….”
Startled by these words, Vaani controlled herself somehow. Before she could muster courage to speak, he continued, ” I want fifty lakh rupees in four days.”
“I don’t have that much money Raghav.” Vaani replied furiously.
“Oh! My baby, I am not here to listen to your silly excuses. I told you already what I need. So you better get on it sooner.” Raghav replied nastily.
“But… B.. But Raghav..” stuttered Vaani.
“I will call you again after 3 days darling, be ready with the cash”. Raghav said and left her alone scared, feeble and lost.
Suddenly, her phone rang.
It was her mother’s call. She didn’t know what to do. Her mother would understand from her voice that something was wrong. Still, she answered the phone call. From the other end, her mother said “Hurry up, reach home quick! Mehul has fallen from the bed. He has hurt his head badly.”
Vaani was in shock on hearing this news about her son and rushed home. Mehul was unconscious and was bleeding profusely. Vaani, along with her mother, rushed to the hospital. In all this hustle-bustle, she forgot everything about Raghav. Mehul was taken to the operation theatre.
To see her child in pain was extremely excruciating for Vaani. The next few minutes were a flurry of activity with doctors reeking of power only half explaining the situation, admission forms to be filled and cards to be swiped. Little Mehul was wheeled into the operation theatre. Vaani felt alienated from her beloved child. Her partner, Rakesh, had left her for another woman. Her widowed mother had moved in with her to look after Mehul while she was at work as a Team Leader at a BPO.
That call – it came again. “Wasn’t he supposed to call three days later? It’s barely a few hours since I met him”, Vaani thought.
Shattered by the unprecedented turn of events, her trembling hands pressed the green button. A voice in a strong Marathi accent spoke hurriedly, “This is Inspector Manjrekar. There’s been an accident. No I -card on the victim and he is comatose. Yours is the last dialed number on his phone.”
Tears gushed down Vaani’s cheeks releasing it all; the agony of a childhood robbed of its innocence; the guilt and shame buried deep inside; the anger at her parents for not being there; the fear of pretty garden sheds; a despise for the river bubbling along merrily drowning her screams!
She was processing the information from the call when she saw a flurry of activity outside the operation theatre. Mehul was being wheeled out to his ward. For a brief moment, Vaani thought of Rakesh and how it would have helped if he was there too. Immediately, she reprimanded herself for having silly thoughts about an infidel who treated her no worse than a slave. No, she was better off without him!
Vaani didn’t want to leave Mehul’s side even for a minute. She was contemplating what to do next when her phone rang again. ‘Inspector Manjrekar’ – Truecaller notified her.
As the phone continued to buzz, Vaani felt conflicted.
“I just can’t reveal Raghav’s rancorous relationship with me”, her voice, just a murmur. She couldn’t risk an upheaval in her life. There was no getting away from this call so she signaled to her mother and left the ward.
“Hello……Hello”, she whispered trying her best to avoid the rush of patients and medical staff.
“Inspector Manjrekar! This is Vaani.”
“My estranged husband Rakesh had taken a monetary loan from Raghav. Raghav wanted to know his whereabouts. Probably, that is why the call!”
And a huge burden was lifted off her.
“Oh! is it??? But I called you to share a news”, Inspector retorted.
“What? What news?”, Vaani asked flabbergasted.
“Raghav regained consciousness and left the hospital without informing anyone. We tried looking out for him but in vain, so I thought of informing you.”
Inspector Manjrekar could smell an uncanny fear in Vaani’s voice.
“Okay”, Vaani replied and hung up the phone. Perplexed, she sank in the ocean of cynicism – Where is Raghav?? What is he up to now??? Shall I inform Maa about this?
Vaani was visibly shaken up from within. She gathered strength and moved with heavy steps towards the ward where Mehul was being shifted.
Although Raghav’s news of leaving the hospital had taken away her peace of mind, she managed to be calm and started putting her gathered strength on Mehul’s treatment. It was hard to forget the times spent with Raghav as her soulmate, who had turned into a dominating male egoist neglecting her feelings.
Sitting beside her little son and sipping the tea, a chill ran down under her spine when she heard a familiar voice calling her name.
It was Raghav standing in front of her!!!
“Mehul has injured himself. He is in the operation theatre. Please leave me alone. What are you up to? What are your plans? Inspector Manjrekar is looking for you. What the hell are you trying to do? I am unable to pay you the hefty amount you ask for, I need finances to take good care of my son, his educational goals, marriage plans, business prospects and current hospital bills. I am his mother and owe responsibilities towards him. I am a single mother and would do my best to contribute towards his commendable achievements in life. I am sure you do not want Inspector Manjrekar or Mom to know that you are back. Would you like them to know you have asked me for money again, not really isn’t it? I am sure inspector Manjrekar has already sensed my fear, so it’s better you leave now and never come back. Save your life and stop bothering me! I have moved on in life, therefore do not mess with me. I do not want to be a silent spectator in your nasty games. Go away before you are recognized and handed over to police. Just go away from my life and never comeback Raghav! And get this straight. I am not paying you even a single penny this time and never again in the future too. Good bye forever!”
After venting out all that was inside her, Vaani moved towards the operation theatre to check on her son.
Raghav left the place and in spite of many thoughts, Vaani could doze off to sleep. She was tired both physically and emotionally.
The past wasn’t ready to leave her – from those black days with Rakesh to the colorful days with Raghav. She had an affair with Raghav. She wasn’t afraid as that’s what she desired for, but now she couldn’t handle the stress and pressure all this had been creating on her brain.
How could she disclose this to her aging mother who took her side in this difficult situation? Could she ever disclose this to her son? She woke up with teary eyes.
Vaani’s sleep was disturbed and she had woken up early. She was prancing around in her bedroom with a mug of black coffee. She kept thinking intently and then got ready.
It was do or die situation for her. It was Navratri, so news related to Durga puja was all over the media. She called up Inspector Manjrekar and discussed a plan.
She took a suitcase and piled it with fake currency notes from her son’s toy closet. For safety, she took a kitchen knife and a pepper spray. She had charged her phone. Speed dial and recording option were kept in handy. She called Raghav and asked him to meet her in a little lonely spot. As soon he came, she handed over the suitcase and recorded this smartly in her phone.
As she tried to leave, Raghav turned around but she was quick enough to kick him in the groin. She screamed aloud, “Never rake the Durga in a woman, you demon!”
Soon, he was handcuffed as the police van had come to the spot to take him away. She laughed hysterically and shouted, “Payback time Raghav! Have a great stay in the prison”.
“Akal bodhan”, when Durga killed Mahisasura. Time for all women to be empowered.
Beyond the Box is the first platform in India to have conducted an Online Write-A-Thon which encourages collaborative story writing. In the month of October 2020, 60 participants created history by being a part of this event. They were divided into groups and each participant in the group contributed to the ongoing story in 100 words approximately. The 14 writers of Group 2 (Adults) who came up with this story are: (Names mentioned in the sequence allotted to them for the Write-A-Thon. A line has been used in the story to indicate change in the writer.)
|Adults Group 2
|Alpna Das Sharma
|Srilakshmi Mrudula Nallagonda