I’LL BE THERE FOR YOU

Prompt: She turned to see who was behind her…

(Image Credit – Google Inc.)

She turned to see who was behind her, but before she could completely take in the view – somebody hugged her tightly. It was dark and she couldn’t figure out who it was but it was a similar touch, a similar fragrance of the man she had loved all her life. Now at the age of 83, she didn’t have to see his face. She knew him – every touch of him and the feel of his aura. They knew each other so well and even after 60 years of marriage, they were deeply in love.

She let him hug her while the quiet tears moistened her cheeks. He said – “I told you I will never leave you till you are alive, and I never did.” She closed her eyes and remembered the day of her husband’s funeral. It was his encompassing love for her as he had promised, remained then and forever. 

MEMORY GAME – VII

That meeting with Shraddha ji two months ago was difficult but necessary. Amidst lot of denial, tears, fear, guilt and ambiguity Shraddha ji had somehow managed to show the right direction to Neha once again. She proved to be the North star for Neha one more time. Neha had promised her with a very heavy heart that she will not let her mind race back to Rishi and that she would do justice to Dr Tripathi, her family and their love for her. Deep within she knew it was the right thing to do but it was easier said than done.

She had taken time but eventually she had put herself together and stood up once again. Everyday bit by bit she was transforming back to being chirpy and joyful. The whole family was noticing this change. Dr Tripathi was happy to see his Neha back. Neha was happy too!

She had stepped out of the house for the first time in two months. Her son wanted to visit the park and she had readily agreed. So off went the mom and son duo! She was happily listening to the chatter of the little man about how he was going climb the slide and sway on the swing and run around the park. Just when they reached the park, the commotion caught her attention. She asked a passer by if he knew what it was about and he said some guy had passed out. She quickly called up Dr Tripathi to have an ambulance sent to the park and also appoint an assistant to handle the case.

She briskly walked towards the crowd and held her little boy tightly by his hand.

“Please.. everyone please move aside. Make way. Please do not crowd. I have called for an ambulance. My husband is a doctor and I will take him to the hospital.”

As crowd started dispersing, Neha was shocked to see who that guy was. Her face lost colour.

“Rishhhiìii…” a shriek escaped Neha’s mouth and in a fraction of a second she drowned into the sea of emotions. Exactly the same emotions she had felt when she had seen him in Dr Tripathi’s office. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She was lost. She wanted to hug Rishi and tell him that he was going to be fine. She couldn’t lose him, not again!

At that very moment, her little boy started howling. He was afraid of the crowd and all that was happening around. His loud cry brought Neha back to senses. She cursed herself for what she was thinking a few moments ago. How could she? She had promised Shraddha ji that she wouldn’t do anything like this ever. And most importantly, she would not trade her loving son and caring husband for anything in the world, or that’s what she told herself to believe in.

While Neha tried to calm down her son, an ambulance with a shrill siren raced towards them. Poor little boy got scared even more

“… dont cry baby… dont cry… mamma is with you sweety.. awww…… ” she held him close to her heart, patted his head gently and kissed his forehead. That was the moment of truth! She was sure that she didn’t love anyone more than him. Not even Rishi. Neha was now clear what she wanted from life.

The paramedics efficiently transferred Rishi to the ambulance and Neha accompanied them to the hospital. She could have gone home but she didn’t want to run away. She was going to be there and face it. Bring it on life!

Two days later when Rishi had gain consciousness fully, Neha went to the hospital to meet him. She knew that Dr Tripathi was away for a surgery at another hospital far away at the other end of the city. She had prepared Rishi’s favorite breakfast and got along with her. Her heart was racing. She was finally going to meet Rishi. She had contemplated this meeting a lot and was sure she wanted to do this. She needed a closure. Their relationship needed a closure.

 

She was standing outside his room. She took a deep breath, softly knocked on the door and stepped in.

They were standing face to face. Numb. Nobody spoke but eyes did. That was the forte of their relationship. They just knew what the other one wanted even before it was said. And it was true even now. Their chemistry was just the same in spite of all odds. The time lapse and memory game had not changed their understanding even a bit. Everything was just the same.

Finally Rishi spoke.

“Neha, I know you are trying to swim against the tide. But trust me, the shore on the other side of the sea is beautiful. Don’t stop Neha. Dont look back, keep going. It will be difficult, but it will take you to the right destination. I love you. I always will. And for that reason itself I will not pull you back. Don’t worry. Be assured that I will not spoil your life. Not even a bit. Even though I  can’t even think of spending my life with anyone but you, I set you free. And I set myself free. Free from all the strings that are attached. We must move on Neha!  Only I know how much I have prepared myself in the past 2 days for this talk. Life has given us a second chance Neha. We need to change a few things. Let’s say God has given me my memory back for a reason? And there could be no better reason than choosing what is best for you. Our love is sacred. We can’t malign it by cheating and breaking the trust placed in us. Our paths turn in opposite direction here onward. We will always love each other Neha but there is no need to prove our love to the world. We don’t need a formal relationship. Not at the cost of you losing the best husband, family and their love. Dont you also feel the same Neha?”

Neha didn’t know what to react. The lump in her throat had almost choked her. She wondered how this man could read her mind even today and how he can sacrifice anything in this world for her well being. Even though she had prepared herself for this, a part of her broke at this goodbye. It meant that she will not see Rishi again. Never ever, not at least in this life. Her heart sank. But it was needed that they part ways. Too much was at stake. She was obliged to too many people to do it. She had promised Shraddha ji that she will do it. Her husband deserved her undivided love and respect. Her son needed both his parents. Her family didn’t deserve the disgrace that will come along if she was to do otherwise. Yet, Rishi was a part of her too. She gently asked,

“What about you Rishi? Will you be able to live without me. I have my family at least, how will you cope?”

“Dont worry about me Neha. I will fix myself. God must have some plan for me. You should leave now Neha. My mom will be arriving here very soon. I am going to be discharged this afternoon.” Rishi turned his back to Neha and said sternly looking outside the window.

“Look at me Rishi. Look at me. We can do this in a better way. Come…. say a proper good bye. Hug me one last time” Neha said, crying and spreading her arms open. Rishi obliged.

She: “Promise me you will move on too.”

He: “I will. Promise”

She: “Promise me you won’t harm yourself.”

He: “Promise”

She: “Promise me you will pursue your career in history and become the best historian. “

He: “Promise. But I will do all this only if you promise to not check on me, ever again in life. Promise me that you will not try to find out my whereabouts. Promise me that you will be the best wife to Dr Tripathi. “

She: “Promise!”

They released the hug, wiped the tears and moved on. Hard as it may seem, they had chosen the right path. For them, love was not about being possessive or destroying lives for selfish desires. Love is all about understanding what is good for each other. Love is all about trusting each other. Love is all about respecting the boundaries. Love is a lot about sacrificing. Love is only about love, not about cheating, snatching or destroying.

Destiny had played brutal game with them but they played along well. The game isn’t over yet. They have now graduated to level two of Memory Game. The game of cherishing the memories and making new ones!

 

20 years later:

“Mom..mom… see this…” Neeraj was jumping with joy with a letter in his hand.

“What is it beta…?” Neha asked lovingly.

“Mom.. this is the letter of confirmation that the great historian Mr Sourab Das has accepted my application. He is going to be my PhD guide!”

Neha took the letter from Neersj and read it several times. She caressed the signature which said “Mr. Sourabh Das” and muttered “Thank you, thank you for everything ” A few tears escaped her eyes.

“What mom, you are crying!?” Exclaimed Neeraj

“Nothing beta. You won’t understand. Call them happy tears.”

 

 

 

Love is an integral part of life. Love is everywhere around us. But we need to nurture it. Do not contaminate it with negative emotions. Do not let it intimidate your thought process and decision making ability though. Love is always beautiful. Its up to us to not make it look ugly.

MEMORY GAME – VI

It’s raining heavily.. Neha is running blindly on the road.. Saurabh called out to her “Neha Neha stop.. talk to me..” She shudders and keeps running without turning.. Saurabh is right behind her and suddenly out of nowhere a car hits Neha and she is flung across the road and is lying in a pool of blood…

“NEHAAA.. shouts Saurabh.” 

He realises he is not on the road he is in his bed completely drenched in sweat. It was a dream.. a nightmare.

He keeps getting this recurring nightmare since he woke up from his coma two months back.. This name Neha feels very important to him. But try as he might he can’t remember who she is. In all of his dreams the moment he is about to see her face something happens and she is lost to him..

He was confident that finding out about Neha would be a key to him getting his memory back.

Saurabh had very hazy memories of his life after his accident.. He was very hurt and in and out of various hospitals. He had flashes of memory of excruciating pain, different hospital rooms and people in doctors coat or nurses uniform mulling around him, trying to talk to him but nothing they said made sense.

Only one name felt right – Neha.

Saurabh had tried asking his mother about Neha too but she always used to react with anger… “Don’t take the name of that witch in front of me. She is the one responsible for your plight. She took my one and only son away from me. You don’t remember me, your mother properly but you are worried about that witch Neha.. God why don’t you listen to my prayers. Help me.. ” and she would either start crying or muttering under her breath. Saurabh used to get a headache after such sessions. So he stopped asking his mother about Neha. Rest of his family was also not much help. They had all been warned by the doctor not to stress Saurabh and let his memory come back on its own.

Days were moving but to Saurabh it seemed like he was stuck in a weird memory game. He was still visiting Dr. Rajan once a month.. The doctor was a very jovial man. He was very confident about his complete recovery. “Don’t worry Saurabh you will solve this memory game very soon. Your body has healed completely, only the mind has to open up.” Dr. Rajan had said in his today’s visit.

Walking out of the clinic Saurabh just started walking on the road towards a park.

Children were playing and mothers were chatting, hawkers were peddling their wares but oblivious to all that Saurabh was just walking lost in his thoughts.

Suddenly on the slide besides him a mother called out to her toddler son “Rishi take care you will fall.” He turned. A mother was calling out to her son. But his body reacted as if someone was calling him. 

He started walking in the park again. But he could not get this word out of his mind.  Why was this name so familiar? Rishi Rishi Rishi.. he could hear a voice call out to him.. “I love you Rishi”. He could hear the tinkling of her bangles. He could hear her laughter.

Rishi sat on the bench lost in his world. Something had stirred in his memory. That name Rishi had thrown a pebble in the still pond of his memory and every ripple it created was bringing up new scenes in his mind. He could see scenes in his mind which he never knew had happened.. With eyes closed he finally saw her face –  The beautiful Neha. She was smiling … She was laughing.. she was teasing him.. she was dancing… All the memories slowly poured into his mind. 

He now knew his past- he remembered Rishi, he remembered Neha.

MEMORY GAME – V

Sudden reappearance of her past has created turbulence in Neha’s present. Flashes from the memory lanes got stirred in her mind. Constant conflict raging within started keeping her distracted and distanced from her present. “Why God why? Why our paths had to cross in this manner? For everything I have been through I never complained, but at this juncture I can’t restrain myself from asking you Why?” The apparent calm demeanour of Neha was hosting a war within. Rishi’s return has opened the doors of the locker she kept hidden and almost forgotten in her heart. Something just got unearthed.

Though Neha maintained silence and just following an everyday routine mechanically rather than living life with her loved ones Rajan did notice this lost self of Neha. Fumbled words, silly mistakes, silent dinners – might not mean otherwise but this was not Neha, he knew something was bothering and he was worried about Neha. He tried to get deep into her thoughts. Nothing was coming forth from Neha. That’s when he thought of seeking some help from Shraddha ji.

One fine day Rajan called Shraddha ji.

Hello Shraddha ji, Rajan here“, He said.

Shraddha ji: “Hello Rajan, long time, how you have been? How’s Neha? We shall catch up some day, work is really keeping me up on my toes. How about meeting this weekend?”

In one breath she finished – from exchanging pleasantries to fixing up weekend plans, she has done it all and now waiting for Rajan to reply.

Rajan: “yeah I am fine. Actually I called you to discuss about Neha. Two three weeks ago she passed off suddenly out of no where.”

What happened? How is she now?” Interrupted Shraddha Ji.

Rajan: “Well, physically she is fine but I doubt about her mental state. I am clueless about what triggered her. She seems to be disinterested, indifferent and lost which is not her, at least not someone whom I am sharing my life with. I firmly believe that something is bothering her. I am fully aware of her ordeals in life but trying to ascertain if it is some pain from the past that has resurfaced or something I am completely oblivion to. I tried talking to her but she is avoiding my questions with her smile which lacks her ingenuity.”

Shraddha ji was listening to Rajan very patiently as he continued “Look Shraddha Ji if anyone I could trust Neha with is you. You have been a motherly figure to her. I request you to talk to her, get her to open up about her emotions, about her inner conflicts. My life revolves around her, her happiness means a lot, in fact everything to me. And I am feeling helpless at this moment“. His words were a mirror to his heart.

Shraddha ji: “Rajan get a hold of yourself. I am with you, don’t stress yourself, we will sort it out. Let’s meet this weekend, I will talk to her.”

Meanwhile at home Neha was unable to decide if she shall see Rishi again or not even if it meant to be for one last time, shall speak to Rajan about his patient being her love once or not, shall demand an explanation from Rishi’s family for separating her from her love or not and much more. She was getting torn from inside. And the doorbell rang. It was Rajan.

He greeted her and went to freshen up. During the dinner he spoke about the call and weekend plan with Shraddha ji. He didn’t divulge much about the details of the conversation. Neha was a bit reluctant at first but agreed eventually to go. She avoided any kind of contests, avoided talking much lest she would break down. She knew her husband is a great human being but a man, a husband indeed…..

The weekend arrived and as per the plan they went to see Shraddha ji.

Welcome guys!!! See Mom who’s here to see us” exclaimed Shraddha ji as she warmly greeted the Tripathi family and everyone had bright smiles on their faces. After lunch Shraddha ji ans Neha found their space as Shraddha ji’s mom went to sleep and Rajan took Neeraj along with him to buy ice cream.

Shraddha ji started with a polite and concerned question “how are you doing doing Neha? Rajan told me that you passed off few days back“.

Neha: “ye..ye..yes I am fine. Nothing to worry about and started looking away from Shraddha ji.”

Shraddha ji have seen this face of Neha before. “Could reason be the same? How is it possible? If not then what?” Amidst such a hurricane of questions in her mind Shraddha ji placed her hand firmly on Neha’s hand as if she is pressing her for answers for her unspoken questions and subtly asked “Neha tell me what’s it that’s bothering you? Share with me. Let me be with you” she said in a comforting tone and looked straight into Neha’s eyes and longed for an answer.

This time Neha did break the silence, “Rishi…”

And this left Shraddha ji stunned. 

MEMORY GAME – IV

Sourabh was rushed to a hospital with multiple injuries; Mostly, head injuries. He was alive but lifeless. He was admitted in a super-specialty hospital in the outskirts of the city. There were scarce chances of his recovery. And his family blamed that unfortunate orphan girl Neha for their son’s accident. 

She has killed my son, almost“, his mom said and warned everyone in the family to let not anyone know that her son still lives. But as soon as he got back his consciousness, he searched for Neha frantically. “Nn..eehaa? Where’sss Neha? Shheee must be waiting for me… Maa…?” He was too weak to express himself and his family members were too strong for him at that particular moment to suppress him down. “She is fine, Sourabh beta. You should not worry about her. She will wait till you become alright”, his Mom kept telling lies and giving him false hopes. 

The accident destroyed Sourabh’s life. After spending a month in the hospital, he came back home, but he was unable to do anything. He became an invalid, a burden for his family with lots of complications. His injuries didn’t let him recover fast enough to get back to his normal life. His profession was to talk about history being a historian, but he was losing the sense about his history, about his present slowly as days passed by.

Sourabh’s accident not only destroyed his own life, but it nearly ruined Neha’s life as well. She suffered a nervous breakdown worrying her friends and acquaintances, especially Ms Shraddha Acharya, her mentor and well-wisher. Shraddha was a widow and had no one apart from her old mother. And she took it upon herself to take care of Neha as her own daughter. She accompanied her to the doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists and everywhere else with the hope to bring her back to life. 

It was tough for her to spend so much time and energy after this young traumatic girl all alone, it was an onerous burden on her. But there was a ray of hope she could see in the form of Dr Rajan Tripathy when she took her mother to him for her ailments. Shraddha Ji was an amicable woman, and so was the young Doctor Rajan. They soon became good friends, especially on a project which they both had envisioned to start. And when she came to know that Dr Rajan was looking for a suitable match for himself, she brought Neha’s topic to his knowledge.

A compassionate man, a doctor, sold out to serve people through his profession didn’t reject her proposal right away but took time to think it over. Neha was not just a brilliant student in her college life but was also a very caring and efficient young woman who could honestly look after people at home. Dr Rajan paid a visit to Shraddha Ji’s house regularly when he found time, with the motivation to meet Neha and interact with her more often. He started to give small responsibilities to carry out to distract her mind from her past and pull her into the present, which was essential. Both Shraddha Ji and Dr Rajan’s constant effort to bring Neha out of her depressed, defeated disposition slowly bore fruit.

Shraddha Ji told Rajan about Neha’s family, her past and how she had suffered since she was just a seven years kid… but when she wanted to talk about her love life, Dr Rajan stopped her from sharing all that. “I would love to hear it from Neha, if she wants to share it she will or else it shall remain in her past, I have nothing to do with that.” He said. 

Who would not feel happy to hear such a statement from such a young man like Dr Rajan? He was just 30 back then. Shraddha Ji neither rushed him or pushed Neha into the alliance, but allowed time, space and God to let things unfold and hoped for the best. And slowly, things started to change for the better.

Neha started to do mundane household chores at Sharddha Ji’s place as she was living with them since that traumatic day. She began to take an interest in talking with her mentor again instead of locking herself inside her room all day. She also took an interest in whatever Dr Rajan asked her to do for their upcoming project. And it was almost after one and a half years from the time of Sourabh’s accident that Neha and Rajan’s wedding was arranged. 

The family members of Dr Rajan were as supportive as him, and no one really went against his decisions because they knew he always proved to be a good decision maker for the benefit of them all.

Neha was welcomed wholeheartedly by her in-laws when she was wedded to Dr Rajan. She wasn’t given much of the loads initially. She used to pass out from time to time for many months, having panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. But Dr Rajan’s careful attention and loving concern were too encompassing to put Neha’s fears to rest and bring her out of her trauma. He was not the poetic, passionate romantic, kinda husband; he never addressed her with endearments such as ‘Baby’, ‘Sugar; or ‘Honey’. But he made up for all that by his compassionate patience and sensitive nature. He always managed to find time for her, spending hours sometimes listening to her, letting her talk despite his tight schedule that took her heart away. She had given herself up to the will of Shraddha Ji and Rajan, letting herself drift away to the winds of time. It was almost two years after her marriage that she felt like herself again and desired to be the good wife and loving daughter-in-law. 

Neha, a timid traumatized girl who had succumbed to her fears, taking refuge in denial, festering in darkness, had stepped into the light again. She decided to take the reins of her life back into her hands and took the responsibility of her home into her hands. From baby steps, she went to strides and was running finally. She took care of everything for everyone, from her Grand mother-in-law’s medication to making healthy mouth-watering meals for everyone. She won everyone’s heart, including her amazing husband, Dr Rajan. 

After the man I was about to marry, who died in an accident, I never expected to live a life again, a life of love and sanctuary but you pulled me out of that darkness. The dark past is gone, and you are my brightest present and future“, she said one day while having pillow talk with her doting husband. Dr Rajan didn’t insist on knowing more about the deceased lover from her past, he was more focused on the present, on the woman living with him every moment with a new zeal and enthusiasm.

Life seemed to move smoothly for Dr Rajan and Neha, and they were bonded more deeply with the arrival of Neeraj, the bundle of joy made her a mother and completed her in every way. She had love, she had a family, she had everything. For the first time in her life, she was in control of things. Six years of marriage made her felt needed, and cherished, her family depended on her.

Dr Rajan was happy and proud to have a wife like Neha who not only came out of a delicate mental state but also became a lifeline of his family and all the members at his house. But he was a bit apprehensive after yesterday’s incident. He regretted bringing up Sourabh, the patient with his accident history in front of Neha without being aware of the connection between his patient and his wife. He can’t afford to push Neha back to her previous mental state. And on the other side, Neha was struggling to cope with the very thought of Sourabh (her Rishi), literally distorting her thought process.

MEMORY GAME – III

Dr. Rajan didn’t allow her to speak anymore and when she was a bit stable, he drove her home himself.

After sometime, at home, Neha was lying on her bed, in her bedroom pretending to be asleep. Her family surrounded her, asking Rajan about her health, her well being and yet she was pretending to be asleep. She was not ready to say she was fine, not yet.

Rajan reassured his concerned family and ushered everybody out, to let Neha rest a while. They filed out one by one, her Grand Mother-in-Law, Mother-in-Law, Father-in-Law and Sister-in-Law who carried her 18-month-old nephew, Neeraj with her.

Rajan was the only one left behind, he kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear, “Sleep, I have important surgery scheduled, I will be back soon.” with these words he left the room after closing the lights and shutting her door.

A couple of minutes later, when Neha was sure she was alone, and no one was coming back, she opened her eyes and sat up in her bed, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her palms. She had a severe headache; she hoped to pass out again; the waking reality was too harsh to face.

Denial was always her best friend. She used it as a shield when her family died in the Mumbai riots of 1992, but she was saved by the police along with her 5 year old brother and put into an orphanage. The 7 year old Neha told herself they were just lost; her family will come back and find her. It will be a lovely reunion. She loved fairytales, and this was only a Hansel and Gretel kind of event. They would be back home soon enough.

She used denial again when three years later, her brother was never found one evening in a game of Hide and Seek with other kids at the orphanage. She kept looking for him under the beds, in the closets, on the terrace but he was never found again. She convinced herself he was like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up and one day he would come to Neverland.

Again denial came to her rescue when she was molested by a man in the park where she went for a stroll at the tender age of 15. She told herself she was sleeping like Aurora, and someday she would wake up, and all this will turn out to be a nightmare.

At this point, her psyche was fragile and flexible at the same time. She needed direction, motivation, a soothing presence and like heaven-sent Shraddha Ji entered her life. Neha was supposed to spend one hour with the lady twice a week. Initially, she was closed and cocooned, never talking much but with the kind and comfortable demeanour of Shraddha, Neha started to speak to her. Tell her about her pain, her expectations, her shattered past and aimless future. Shraddha knew the girl had been through a lot and with her calming voice and affectionate warmth, she mentored Neha into a stronger version of herself. She encouraged her to be more social and less secluded, to make friends, to get a college degree and make an independent life for herself.

Neha finally accepted that no fairytales are happening for her. She turned eighteen and got admission in a college on her merit. With little help and recommendation from Shraddha Ji, she took up residence in a girls hostel and a small job as the library assistant that earned her enough to pay for her hostel, food and some basic needs. She was studying hard and getting facilitated with scholarships and had stopped hoping for any fairytales, deciding to be her own knight in shining armour and make a good life for herself.

But the fairytale did happen when she least expected it. Sourabh came into her life like Prince Charming and swept her off her feet. She fell for him head over heels, and he turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her.

He was the college alumni and had come for a guest lecture on the subject of History. She loved the way he touched some untapped topics and went to him after the class with some doubts. He had invited her for a cup of coffee with him in the college canteen, and she came to know more about his personal History than her subject. He was 27 years old and was assistant to a known historian who couldn’t come for the lecture and sent him instead.

That first meeting turned into many sessions that turned into dates, and eventually, they became inseparable. She poured her heart and soul to him, he shared everything about himself, and they didn’t hesitate to accept they were deeply in love and committed to each other for the rest of their lives.

She called him Rishi instead of Sourabh with fond love. He loved her with all his heart and accepted her painful past with the same willingness as Prince Charming received Cinderella. Here was her fairytale at last. Her hero had arrived.

Sourabh decided to get married as soon as she finished college. He spoke to his mother who denied to accept an orphan girl with no background as her daughter-in-law. The mother-son duo had a fallout and Sourabh decided to marry Neha against the wishes of his mother.

Neha, on the other hand, feared he might leave her and decided to end her life if that happened. He reprimanded her severely for having such thoughts and to assure her he decided to marry her in the court of law. The date was chosen, Sourabh chose to bring a colleague/friend, Shubham as witness and Neha picked Shraddha Ji as her witness who was not only her closest friend but also her mentor.

On D-Day, Neha wore a red saree gifted by her Rishi and added his favourite jasmine flowers to her hair along with some red glass bangles in her Henna decorated hands. She sat in the waiting area of the marriage lawyer’s office along with her witness, waiting for Sourabh impatiently, fidgeting with the thin gold ring in her palm, one she bought for him with her savings. One by one other couple went in and came out wearing that beautiful, glowing smile of a newlywed couples on their faces. Neha kept looking at her watch, but Sourabh never came, their names were called, and he was not there.

Neha’s heart sank. She was not ready to believe that her Rishi would ditch her. It was closing time when Sourabh’s friend Shubham came running to her. She looked around him; Sourabh was not with him; she felt weak in her knees and mouth went dry.

Shubham looked haggard and cried as he broke the news to Neha, “Neha!!!” Sourabh….” he couldn’t go on, and Neha knew her fairytale has ended, “Sourabh died in a car crash while he was coming to pick me.” These words hit Neha like a physical blow, and the Earth slipped from under her feet. There was no Happily Ever Afters in her life.

She fell on the floor in a heap, like a puppet with strings cut and fainted. She had a nervous breakdown. Her mind couldn’t take the pain, and she passed out. Something rolled away from her open palm, and Shubham picked it up. It was a golden ring, one she was going to slip on her Rishi’s finger when they exchanged vows.

MEMORY GAME – II

One glance, and Neha stared at the patient with dilated eyes and her mouth wide open. The hand that had held the plate involuntarily sprang up to cover her mouth.

Shikha came rushing to the doctor’s chamber on hearing the sound of the crashing plate.

“I’ll call for the housekeeping right away to get the place cleaned. Meanwhile er . . . Sir, please if you could excuse the doctor. This is his personal hour as I had insisted before when you wanted to meet him. This way please, Sir”, said Shikha as she led the patient away by his arm, who though headed for the door, kept turning his head back again and again blinking in confusion as he looked at Neha.

Now that the two of them were alone, Neha quickly closed shut the floodgates of her mind through which memories had started to trickle in and threatened to gush in any moment. But, she was at a loss how to react? It was him, no doubt! Or was she hallucinating? All she wanted was to do was run away from the doctor’s chamber and get a grip of what she had seen and heard. Her head started spinning and Rajan’s face blurred before her eyes. In a moment she blanked out and fell as Rajan stretched forth his hands just at the right time to prevent her from crashing onto the floor where the broken pieces of the plate were strewn.

“Shikha, call for the stretcher boy quickly”, shouted Dr. Rajan over the intercom as he eased Neha into a sitting position in his chair.

“I should not have started off with my story when she didn’t want to hear. I should not have allowed just a strange patient to intrude on our private time. Neha is right! After all, this is the only hour that we usually get to ourselves. I should have just allowed her to de-stress herself. She does so much for the family without a grumble. She must’ve been really fatigued, though she came in sporting her vibrant smile as always”, Dr. Rajan thought out aloud.

The stretcher boy rushed in and helped shift Neha from the chair to the stretcher. Dr. Rajan instructed him to wheel her into the doctors’ resting area. Though he was tensed, he was sure that it was nothing serious and that Neha would be up in minutes. He had seen Neha slip into and out of consciousness in the initial couple of years of their marriage. He had been a good friend to her then, unlike many a cribbing husband who want an all perfect wife for all purposes.

It was only when Neha felt comfortable and trusted him enough to share as to how her love relationship before marriage had come crashing down with the sudden death of Rishi, that he understood the psychosomatic manifestations that she was going through.

Being the compassionate doctor that he was for all his patients, it didn’t take him long to treat Neha with his daily dosage of love, trust, understanding, patient hearing and sparing the personal space that she needed most. It was difficult for him, considering the expectations of his large family from the new daughter-in-law. But, then that is how he won her trust, by rendering his unconditional support to Neha and taking her side often before his parents.

It had been years to this day since Neha no longer slipped into sudden spells of unconsciousness. So, Dr. Rajan didn’t get alarmed about it.

Thankfully, the doctors’ resting chamber was empty as probably all of them were on duty. Rajan sat patiently by her bed, gently stroking her hair.

An uncanny feeling gripped him as he saw the same pale expression on Neha’s face as he had seen in the initial few years. He rubbed her palms softly hoping that she regained consciousness soon.

Just then his mobile buzzed and he walked two steps away from the bed to answer the call. Two minutes into the call, he heard Neha’s mumbled voice. He excused himself and disconnected the call immediately and stepped back to her bedside.

“Neha, I am with you. You are alright, dear”, whispered Rajan softly into her ears even as her lips moved with her eyes remaining closed. Rajan caressed her cheeks gently and kept assuring her of his presence.

“It is ok, dear . . . don’t try to speak. Rest for while and then gradually open your eyes. I am by your side. Nothing to worry”, said Rajan. Neha’s lips stopped moving for a few seconds.

And, then just as Rajan took his hand off from her forehead, he heard her speak.

This time it was clear but too faint to make out –

Issshi . . . Rrrrishiii . . .