Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 17 - In the Past

Two weeks later, Khushi was breathing a little easier. The new number that she had got seemed to have done the trick. There had been no more calls. Life was much better. It had settled into a routine now, and she felt more settled in. She hadn’t seen Shyam either, nor had she called him. His card lay in her purse, as did Gauri Virdi’s.

It was a Saturday, a gorgeous day, not too hot, not too cool. Perfect weather. She and Debs were going over to Anahita’s. Her parents had decided to find a groom for Anahita. The boy’s family was coming over and the two girls were going to be there as moral support for Anahita.

The house was bustling with activity. ‘Aunty!’ Khushi called as the two of them entered through the door.

‘Khushi, Debs, so nice of you to come over and help. Annie is in her room and she’s feeling very nervous. Why don’t you’ll head upstairs and help her?’ Mrs. Malhotra was an older version of Anahita or Annie as she was called lovingly.

The girls headed up the stairs and had just reached Annie’s room when Khushi’s phone rang. She picked it up and breezily said, ‘Hullo?’

‘Khushi, Khushi, Khushi, tsk, tsk, tsk’, her eyes opened wide, body completely stiff. ‘You think if you change your phone number I can’t find you? Jaan, I will go to the ends of the earth for you.’ She started shaking and her friends watched her with alarm.

Debs grabbed the phone and said, ‘who the hell is this? And who the hell do you think you are? Why do you keep calling Khushi?’

There was silence on the line, the faint sound of breathing. ‘Debs, hunh? Are you jealous that I don’t call you too?’

She was horrified and ended the call. She was breathing rapidly. She held out the phone to Khushi. ‘How did that, that.. THING know my name?’

‘What?!’ Both the girls said in unison.

‘Yes, that THING knew I was speaking, knew my name, Debs, called me Debs,’ she was hyperventilating now. Tears were streaming down her eyes.

Khushi forgot her own horror as she hugged her friend. Oh my God! She thought. This person knows everything about me, even knows my best friends’ names.

Annie’s mother was calling from downstairs. They really needed to get her ready. Shattered as they were, both girls pulled themselves together to help her put on her finishing touches. They didn’t want to go downstairs and meet the boys’ family or even see the boy. They were scared out of their wits.

Letting Annie go with her mother, Khushi wandered out onto the little balcony off the room. She shut her eyes in despair. Oh dear God! What do I do? Where do I go? She opened them and saw someone on the drive below, speaking on a cell. The prospective groom probably. Just as he started to turn around, she moved back quickly, spun around and went back in.

Unbeknownst to her, he looked up to the balcony to see the flash of a pair of never-ending legs in straight jeans, the back of one red t-shirt sitting snugly on the wearer, a swath of long black hair obscuring her face. He went back to his conversation.

They sat quietly, each lost in thought.

‘Debs,’ she said, ‘I have to go home. I need to talk to my father’.

Debs nodded. She had been having a quiet cry, as she’d never been so frightened in her life. ‘Let’s just leave. We can’t let aunty know. Because if they know my name, what’s to say they don’t know Annie’s name too!’

‘Yes, and we can’t allow anything to happen,’ Khushi agreed, ‘especially on a day like this.’

They started down the stairs when Mrs. Malhotra spotted them. ‘Girls, where are you going?’ She was holding a big plate of sweets in her hand.

‘Home, aunty,’ said Khushi. ‘I had promised Dad some help … so…’

‘And I am Khushi’s ride, aunty, so I need to go, too.’

‘Girls, I am so happy,’ she said as they reached the bottom of the stairs, eyes filled with tears. ‘The marriage is fixed. Next month is the engagement.’

The two girls hugged her. ‘I am so glad, aunty,’ Khushi took a bite of the sweet as did Debs. ‘But we really have to go.’

‘Okay, girls. Don’t forget to tell your parents, okay?’

‘We won’t, aunty,’ they chimed together. She blessed them as they walked out together.

The ‘groom’ was still out there on his phone, his back to them. They walked silently by him to his right, heads bent, each lost in their own thoughts.

Once more, she never knew that he smelt her perfume (he just knew it was hers) and turned around, he turned to his left, but she had gone past him, and he spun a full three-sixty degrees trying to see her face. She never saw him looking after her, the same girl with the legs and t-shirt, with another girl. She just walked silently by with her friend. She didn’t notice him watching them let themselves out the gate before shaking his head and going back to his conversation.

The three of them sat in the living room, as Khushi explained about the calls to her father and mother. Both of them were very disturbed by her account. Her father sat thinking for a while and then said, ‘We have to talk to their parents.’ Somehow she had not got to the Shyam story.

Almost on cue, the phone rang. It was Debs’ parents and they were coming over that evening.

In the evening, they all gathered in the living room: The Guptas, the Malhotras and the Banerjees. The three girls sat on a sofa, holding hands.

‘Mr Gupta, you do understand that we have heard about the phone calls. Have you called the police?’

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘But they are not willing to do anything about it. According to them, Khushi has not been threatened with physical harm, so they can’t do anything.’

‘What?’ said Mr Banerjee. ‘This person is obviously following her around, keeping tabs on her. Mr.Gupta the police should be protecting her!’

‘I know, but they don’t seem to want to chase something that is not officially a crime.’

‘I don’t believe this. An unknown person is calling up and they can’t do anything?’

Mr. Gupta shook his head.

‘What are you going to do? You can’t keep changing her phone number!’

‘No I can’t’, he said, acknowledging that he couldn’t protect his family as he should have.

Mrs.Banerjee leaned forward, ‘Anna, I am finding this very hard to say. But Debs can’t be around Khushi anymore.’

‘And neither can Annie,’ added Mrs Malhotra.

The three girls looked at their mothers in horror.

‘I understand,’ said Annie. ‘Your daughters should have no contact with Khuhsi’. My poor baby, what are we asking from you?

Tears were streaming down Khushi’s cheeks. She didn’t know why this was happening to her. Why she had to give up her friends, because some .. some… pervert! Called her up every now and then. The girls hugged tearfully, promising each other that once this nightmare was over, they would get back in touch again. It was going to be hard. When the others finally left, Khushi went into her room, and flopped onto her bed.

What was this turn had her life taken? What was she going to do? She couldn’t stay a prisoner in the house, she still had a job to go to.

Downstairs, Anna and Shashi sat on the sofa, her head resting on his shoulder. They held each other’s hands, both feeling scared as well as wondering what they were going to do now. A line had been crossed today and now they had to take steps to keep their daughters safe, both of them.

‘Anna,’ he said, ‘we should move to the US’.

She looked up at him. ‘Shashi, you love it here. Why would you want to move there? And at this point in our lives, starting over?’

He nodded. ‘We have to, and the US is as good an option as any.’

She thought for a bit, and said, ‘I guess we’re San Francisco bound, then.’

The next day, Shashi Gupta started the process of moving the Gupta family to the US.

6 comments:

  1. Madhu .. all i can say is gasping for me ...hmm interesting who is Anahita's groom .. loved it

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  2. i'm sorry for not commenting on the prev updates, but i was just so wrapped up in the mystery..

    so THATS how they came to the USA. at least it was not anything worse..

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  3. If they move to US now then how did shyam end up going to jail for 6 months.........The mystery continues.
    WHo is Annie's groom????

    Liza

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  4. I am totally hooked, can't wait to read wat happens next

    Sarahjac IF

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  5. Why do I get the feeling the 'groom' was not who she thought he was, but was actually a friend of the prospective groom? I think the man on the phone was Arnav...

    I seriously dont like Shyam and his Rani Sahiba is even worse, after all shes the one pulling his chain.

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  6. oh so thats how they moved..... how did shyam end up in jail though?

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