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Twice in a lifetime (Part II)


(Read the first part of the story here )

Immediately she got a reply “Oh sweetheart, thank god you are back :) ”

She could sense his relief and smiles. She got dressed up with care, but when she looked around her home to see Kapil’s things she didn’t have the heart yet to move them. She thought to her self “Baby steps Namrata, baby steps”

She had let her hair down that day and wore a beautiful cream Salwar, when she opened a inch of Arvind’s office door and asked him “Coffee?”

He looked up from his laptop and grinned at her, and when she entered his office with coffee cups, he caught his breath. He immediately got up, took the coffee cups from her hand and put on the table. He held her shoulders and looked her up and down in scrutiny, as if seeing her in this attire for the first time. He twirled her around to see and she laughed. An open heart felt laugh. His heart tugged him at that sound, she looked lovely, like a goddess. He took a step back from the intoxicating presence of her and grinned his usual wicked smile at her and said. “Somebody is back”.

She smiled at him and said “I hope so, but don’t expect drastic changes, i have assured myself that i will take baby steps”

He handed her the coffee when she sat down and perched up on the edge of his table. She was looking calm, there was still sadness in her demeanour, but he could also feel the vibe of her resolve to smile.

As he kept his cup down he asked “So are you back to work from today or do you need more time?”

She looked up to him and said “Am back to work” when she didn’t offer any more answer about the last few days, he kept quiet and immediately shifted his manner to business. While he discussed with her the finer points of her work done for him. His mind was absorbing all the changes in her. He decided then and there, he would help her to see the things she missed in many years, he will help her find herself.

When he concluded business, in the same tone he said her suddenly “And by the way this weekend, don’t keep any plans because we both will be working”

“Ok sure, i will inform my assistant to keep my weekend open. Anything else”

When he shaked his head no, she took off to her cabin.

The whole week went in hectic schedules of work and pressure. And when weekend came, Namrata was in soar need of a break, but she had already agreed to work, so she came to office on Saturday morning to see Arvind waiting for her near his car in jeans and casual shirt. She looked at her own severe formal clothes and tried to remember if they had agreed to cancel the work today. When she reached him with questions in her eyes, he just smiled and opened the door of his car for her.

He drove without informing her of the destination, no matter how many times she asked. When he was still tight lipped after 30 minutes of driving, she gave up and settled to sit comfortably and enjoy the ride. He stopped the car outside an ancient, huge building, which looked like was built in a forgotten era of the kings.

It had a huge courtyard inside its high compound walls. And she looked up at the small board on the building, her smile was filled with wonder. It was an animal care center.

Namrata tugged at his shirt and asked “Why are we here, is there some function for which you are the chief guest?”

Arvind just took her hand and pulled her with him saying “No, i brought you here to show you something.”

A matronly looking middle aged woman with warm smile came out to greet them, and took them inside. And there in the back yard were fenced areas with all kinds of animals, dogs, cats, rabbits. They even had an ox chewing his grass leisurely in the back. And all the animals were craving for attention she could see, as soon as she was let inside the dog shelter, all the dogs came running to her with bodies wagging tails and in some case tails wagging bodies. They seemed so hungry for love and affection. She could see her own reflection in every one of their eyes when she asked that lady “How come such nice dogs are here?”

She said indulgently “Some  are street dogs, most of them are left behind by the owners who are not able to take care of them anymore and there are some whose masters have passed away and the dog is just waiting for its time pining”. And she pointed out a huge black dog lying down in a corner with open eyes and regarding her and said “See that one, his name is Shuffles, his owner died 2 years before and since then he has shown no interest in anything, he is just pining his remaining days away. The relatives of that owner said they didn’t want a sad dog and they left him here. They said that the dog was with its master from the day of its birth”

Namrata very carefully went near Shuffles, shuffles just watched her progress with the corner of his eyes. She came to sat very near to it, he just picked his head up and looked at her, after looking at her for a few seconds, the end of his tail wagged hesitantly. When she squatted down near him, he was very softly wagging his tail in acceptance, Namrata hesitantly smoothed the fur on his forehead and the dog scooted near to her for comfort. Namrata felted accepted and it brought such a feeling of happiness that her eyes welled up on her own. When she looked back at the woman and smiled. The woman was giving her a disbelieving look. She cleared her throat and said “You know he never acknowledges anybody, neither has he showed acceptance or anger from anybody’s approach and this the first time he has shown any indication of being alive”

Namrata felt an immediate bonding of comradeship with the dog and when she was about to ask the woman, the woman asked her “Do you want to adopt him?”

Namrata could only say “Yes, oh yes please”

Arvind was leaning on the door frame and watching all these activity, and heart swelled with emotion seeing Namrata and her new dog. He bought her here to show her that beings are capable of pure love even after abandonment. And it looked like he had achieved it in a different way, it looked like Namrata got another kindred soul to share her emotions with.

After adopting snuffles, life gradually started to settle for Namrata in a peaceful way. She stopped being very severe and workaholic all the time. After a month she reverted her name back to her maiden name as Namrata Sahai from Namrata Niranjan. That was the first biggest step she took towards moving on in her life. Even though she didn’t remove all the presence of Kapil yet from her home, she was more calm and happy than she had been from past years. And at every step of her progression Arvind was by her side to help her. Every weekend held a new surprise for her; they went on trekking, adventure sports and also visited Orphanage, Old age home where Arvind sometimes spent working as a volunteer. Seeing so many people who deserved love made her look selfish because she had enjoyed pure love in her life. She vowed to spend more time in those places and work there as a volunteer. She always knew Arvind was a loving man, but even she didn’t know that he volunteered in these places and later she also came to know that he was the main benefactor to it also. The respect she had towards him grew tenfold. The day she learnt that, she wanted to show him her proudness in him when they went out to dinner. And when she started saying “Raj.......”

Arvind cut her off in between said “You know even though i always liked you calling me Raj, somehow i have come to associate myself with Arvind from your mouth. I think that is one change we can safely not let happen” he had smiled casually at her. And even though she had seemed confused for a minute she had nodded and accepted it.

Arvind had come to realise one thing that somehow her calling “Raj” implied that she still saw that impulsive, happy-go-lucky, partying, careless guy of the past. He had grown personally in the recent years and whenever she called him Arvind now, it felt like she saw the grown man in him. And at this moment it was very important for him that she sees him like that. Not that impulsive guy of the past.

Namrata was not unaware of the growing awareness of Arvind in a new way now a day. Suddenly he was more than a shoulder to support, a rock to lean back. As days went by she had started noticing how much more was there to his personality than she had known. It was as if she was coming to understand him for the first time. And she liked the man she was seeing now.

The next big change came when one day Namrata while sipping her daily dose of coffee with Arvind asked him “Are you free on Sunday?” Arvind was enjoying the peace of sipping the coffee and had just looked at her and said hmmm with a quirk of his eyebrow had the question of why. She had hesitantly answered “umm... am looking for a new house to buy and I need your opinion about it”

She knew Arvind was surprised and shocked, and she also knew he was trying to hide it when he said “Sure why not, i will make sure nobody disturbs our adventure” and he had given her a very indulgent smile with such fondness and understanding that for a minute she had drowned in the new face of him she was seeing. She knew she was in trouble when she drew her breath slowly and all she could smell was him.

The Sunday was very eventful when they saw many houses, Namrata had insisted that she was fed up of apartments and wanted to buy an independent house. Finally when the sun was also exhausted and was throwing hues of red and orange in the sky, they found a beautiful house modelled after a French cottage complete with garden and stone pathway. It was a small two bedroom house but had a very cozy feeling all around it. Namrata fell in love with the cottage as soon as she saw it, and even before she saw the insides she had already decided to buy it and once she saw the stone work, the panelled walls and winding staircase and the beautiful balcony upstairs, she was sure she can’t see herself in any other house.

Finally after 5 weeks of severe negotiations and lots of to and froes the house was Namrata’s to call her own. That day, Namrata came home and cried happy tears and very carefully and fondly boxed all the belongings of Kapil. It was time for a new beginnings and she was terrified of it. But also extremely excited about the new adventures. She had to make new memories in the new home, and start her life all over again in a new way, and when her thought process was progressing in all these new avenues, the only person she included in all her new plans was Arvind. And on a fine spring Sunday morning, Namrata and Arvind shifted all her personal stuff as she had sold the apartment with the furniture; she had already decided that she will buy everything according to the decor of new home which was far removed than the urbane apartment she lived in.

Now their weekends were always busy with antique furniture hunting, volunteer work and playing with Shuffles. Arvind whenever he was in the city would always spend all his weekends with her. Both them had started make new avenues in their friendship also, it seemed like they were not only rediscovering themselves but each other also. Time passed with fondness and Namrata healed admirably, and Arvind admired the way she bloomed back to life.  And this time he was sure that not only he was attracted to her, but he had fallen in love with her. He wondered whether he was in love with her from before.

That day was special for Namrata, it was Kapil’s birthday and for the first time after his death she wanted to celebrate his birthday with happiness and smiles, as he deserved to be remembered. She cajoled Arvind into making his day free that day and took him to the foundation where she yearly donated money in the name of Kapil and both of them took pleasure in spending the day with the kids in that foundation. After the day, Arvind said to Namrata “Would you like to have dinner with me?”

Namrata looked at him in confusion and asked “Of course what kind of a question is that to ask”

Arvind had just smiled and said, “I have planned a special dinner for you, so i will drop you home now and will be at your doorstep at 8 to pick you up. Dress up ok”. She nodded with a smile.

He took her home and walked her to her doorstep and as she opened the door and turned to say bye, he took her hand and pulled her close and pushed her flowing hair behind her ear and said “I will be back, wait for me” and before she could reply, he had walked away towards his car.

When the bell rang at 8, Namrata’s heart was beating at the speed of the bullet train. She took a deep breath and schooled her expressions and watched herself once in the mirror and opened the door. And there he was standing all magnificent in a black suit with snowy white shirt and no tie. He looked all male and intense.

Arvind couldn’t stop staring at her; she was wearing a light blue saree with silver border and no ornaments other than a big earring with light blue crystal in it. She had let her hair flow without any constraints, just as he liked it. His fingers were twitching to feel its silkiness, but he controlled himself and smiled at her and asked “Shall we?”

 She smiled back and nodded and took her clutch purse which matched her attire, she shooed Shuffles away from the door towards his place and locked the door behind her and took the hand offered by Arvind when she sat in the car. She had no idea where he was taking her, the only thing she was aware was that today was special. The day was by the way special to her for many reasons and some how she felt Arvind was trying to make a new memory for her to enjoy today.

They reached the most expensive restaurant in the city, which she had guessed already by their formal attire. He took her inside, and she was expecting him to sweep her away to a private dining room have dinner but when he stirred her towards a conference room, she was puzzled. But she didn’t question him. When he opened the door of the conference room and the whole room turned to look at them, she was startled and when the crowd parted on its own accord to leave them the way to reach the dais, she was still walking in confused daze. Arvind’s hand was on her lower back, slightly applying pressure to make her walk. He could see her responding in a cool and calm manner as if she knew the purpose of coming here but could also feel her confusion.

When they reached the dais and he took her arm to fit it into the nook of his arm and guided her towards the dais, he knew the exact moment when she noticed the big banner on the dais where it was boldly written “KAPIL NIRANJAN FOUNDATION”. Her eyes welled up with astonishment, surprise and happiness when she realized what Arvind had done for her.

For last few months after watching her work so happily in various foundations which supported the old age homes, orphanages, animal care centres etc., he decided he would open a foundation for her which will support various projects all around the country. And when he spoke about Kapil as his inspiration for this project and looked at her she mouthed the words “Thank you”.

There was party organized after the official ceremony on the terrace of the hotel and Namrata after the initial round of mingling with everybody was sitting in a corner of the terrace thinking hard and fast, when Arvind came to sit beside her. She smiled graciously at him with gratitude in her eyes and he took her hand and said, “Don’t, please don’t look at me like I did something extraordinary. He deserved to be remembered.”

After a long pause Arvind turned towards her to say something and he noticed that the edge of her saree pallu was caught in the Rose arrangement behind her. He smiled at her and pointed towards it and said, “don’t move it might tear the saree, i will remove it carefully”. She nodded towards him and sat very still. Arvind went behind her and very carefully removed the saree from the thorns taking care that it didn’t damage the saree, all the while thinking of how to tell Namrata the things he felt for her. When he looked up holding the edge in his hands he saw a person talking to Namrata in a familiar way, as Arvind was bit hidden by the flowers and due to low lighting he was not quite visible, but he could see the mesmerised look on the face of Namrata. And when the man asked her to dance with him, she got up like in a dream and walked away with him.

When the saree slowly left the grasp of Arvind’s hand, he felt her slipping away from his life yet again. He kept looking at his empty hand trying to control the turmoil of feelings in his mind. The hurt he was feeling didn’t measure to any disappointment he ever felt in his life. But more than that was the lose he felt at losing her again, and this time it was more acute than ever. His heart was breaking into pieces and he felt every crack and piece of it. Not only had it cracked into pieces he felt like somebody walked all over the pieces of his heart. He looked up to look at her and saw her looking up in the face of that stranger with a strange happiness and that look killed him a thousand times over. The irony of his situation mocked at his face, just a moment before he was about to confess his feelings to her, but chose to untangle her saree only to let her walk away with somebody else. But he knew,  that if she chose somebody else then even this time he will step back and let her have her happily ever after. He knew in his heart that no matter how many pieces his heart had broken into every piece of it only wished her happiness. He sighed in defeat and crammed his hands in his pocket and started to walk away, to step down, to back off.

Namrata had been all excited and was waiting with anticipation when that stranger came over to talk to her. And for a moment she felt like Kapil was standing in front of her. He resembled so much like Kapil that when he asked her to dance with him, she didn’t think twice about accepting and going into the dance floor for the slow dance which was playing. But as she started dancing with him, she noticed the small differences in him, and within few minutes she came out of her daze and realised that the man she was dancing with was not Kapil. She excused herself in middle of the dance and walked away from him shaking her head for her foolishness and when she looked back at him she noticed he looked nothing like Kapil, yeah maybe the angles of the face resembled a bit like Kapil but she couldn’t believe that she could mistake this man with Kapil. She again laughed at her foolishness and thought maybe the day spent was to blame for her mistake. Today she had already decided that she will let ghost of Kapil rest in peace. When she reached the place where she was sitting with Arvind before, she didn’t see him there. Instinctively she knew something was wrong, she frantically searched for him in the crowd, but no finding him, she asked the passing waiter as to his whereabouts. When he confirmed seeing him striding down towards the elevators, she knew he was leaving the party, leaving her. She broke in to a run and took the elevators down to the lobby of the hotel and searched for him in hurry and finally saw him standing outside the front doors waiting for his car. She ran to him and when she was a few steps behind him she slowed down to walking and very calmly she placed a hand on his shoulder. As he turned back, she saw his eyes which were sparkling with emotion, the weariness in it, the sadness of lose in them.

She smiled at his surprised face and said “you still owe me that dinner!”

 He was still in a confused state when he asked “What are you doing here? You were... you know ,.. there” he couldn’t make himself say that she was with somebody else. He knew this time he cant cope up.

She smiled elegantly at him and said “No i was not, i mistook him for somebody else. And once i realised that I came back, because by then i realised i wanted to be only with you and nobody else”

He couldn’t believe what she was telling him and by the time his car was bought to the front by the valet. Arvind knew one thing that he needed to say things to her before he burst out. And Namrata could sense his urgency. Without any words between them, they both sat in the car and they both knew he was taking her to her home. Because from the time she made it her own, that house was a safe abode to both of them. They had already started making memories in it.

He parked the car outside her home and in determined steps walked up to her door, dragging her behind him. She instantly remembered that she left the purse in the party and he immediately took out his spare key and entered the home. He called his secretary and arranged locate her purse and ordered him to keep it in safekeeping till he said and he turned back to see that she was standing in front of the window facing the light breeze of the cold night.

He went to stand behind her and took her flowing hair between his two fingers and felt the silky texture of the hair. He had been yearning to feel them all night and a sighed escaped his lips in pleasure and at that moment she leaned back to him letting him support her wholly. His hands wound around her midriff to support her fully.

No words were needed to convey the emotions they felt for each other, the night, the breeze and the atmosphere were shouting with love they felt for each other. Both of them didn’t want to break the magic which surrounded them but it was inevitably broken when her tear fell on his hand which didn’t go unnoticed by Arvind. He slowly turned her towards him and wiped her tears, and led her to sit on the couch with him. He instantly knew why she was crying and she knew that he understood.

He let out a breath and started “Namrata, i have thought of a thousand ways to convey my love to you and now without much ceremony i want to just say I Love You...”

Namrata started to say “Arvind...”

When he smiled fondly and said “I know Namrata, I know. You are thinking about Kapil and his love. But that’s the thing, i really built this foundation gaining inspiration from the generosity of Kapil and your love for him. I didn’t lie there and i wont lie to you when i say, that i don’t want you to stop loving Kapil so that you can love me.”

When Namrata looked puzzled from his declaration wondering whether he loved her not, what he meant by that, Arvind continued “What I meant to say is that I don’t want you to replace Kapil with me. The love he shared with you was no less to be replaced so easily. All i am asking is a place of my own in your heart. I am ready to share you with him or his ghost. But i cant live without atleast a share of you.”

Namrata felt emotions swelling within herself when she heard his words. At the meaning of his words which showed how much he loved her that he was ready to live under the shadow of Kapil’s love, if that meant she could love him. She thought with content “Oh she did love him, wholly, fully, completely.”

She placed her hand on his cheek and when he pressed himself in her palm, she asked with surprise "Why did you walk away from me tonight?"
 
If Arvind was surprised by her question, he didn't show it he just said with a shrug "It looked like you didn't need me there".
 
Her voice was very slow and soft when she said "And you walked away, just like that"
When he didn't answer she said again "No questions asked, no demands?"
 
Arvind looked up to see her beautiful eyes sparkling with unshed tears and said "Your happiness is everything for me. It didn't matter if I was not the origin of that happiness."
 
The fall of first tear felt like it happened in slow motion, and once it fell there was no stopping it. With tears flowing undeterred she said “You don’t have to share me. I am fully, wholly, completely yours. Oh how I love you, and so much that i cant express. Your love, your generosity and your selfless person, they are the source of my happiness. You made me alive again. You made me a new person, showed me that there is still love left in life.  Kapil is finally at rest, he has found his peace and I have found mine. Only some people are lucky to find love in their life, and am extraordinarily lucky to find love twice in my life. My love, my heart and my everything is completely yours without conditions”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she was crushed to him with such force that it knocked the breath out of her. But she was smiling in contentment in his hug, and when she laid her head on his shoulder she thought she had started to live again and she loved every inch of it.

Comments

  1. “Baby steps Namrata, baby steps”
    Superb lines again..after a kind of bad patch in her life..she didn't just jump of the window to begin the new life...nicely conveyed that message in that line...

    The similarities shown in the animal care-taking center, the comparisons of dog's life and her life, and with new found affection springing back to life..all had been narrated excellently.

    Even though my heart had skipped its beat when she goes with a stranger look alike for a dance, again you wielded nivi special to bring the story to the right track!

    "Only some people are lucky to find love in their life, and am extraordinarily lucky to find love twice in my life" excellent assembly of words i can say. I loved the way you narrated their untold affection between them...and Arvind characterisation awesome. The reader always feel to be in Arvind shoes..that is your success as a breathtaking story teller of emotions. Superb nivi..Hats off!

    ReplyDelete
  2. out of words Nivedita. You made me so emotional.

    ReplyDelete

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