HAND IN HAND
The Reunion Of A Story
At the Hospital…
“Ma, are you alright?” Karan asked, handing a bottle of water to Shalini as they sat down in the lobby. Surbhi was still being examined. Neha and Shalini were shaken after the incident. But neither of them realized how worried Karan was. Making sure Shalini was alright, he asked Neha to take care of Shalini; he walked down to the cafeteria.
“How are they both?” Karthik asked, handing Karan his coffee. “Well, Ma’s fine. She’s in shock, but other than that, she’s fine. The airbags did a decent job. Ms. Kapoor seems to have a minor concussion from the jerk. They’re examining her for any fractures or internal bleeding. She didn’t wear the damn belt. I’ve told her a hundred times now.” Karan was clearly worried. “Anyway, it’ll be a while. Thanks for getting Neha up there.” “Since when are we telling thanks to each other?” Karthik frowned. After Karan placed the order to the staff and instructing them to deliver it to Shalini, Neha and Surbhi, they walked down to the hospital lounge.
“What are you going to do about it?” Karthik stopped Karan, when the crowd became relatively less in the area. “I don’t know yet. She did blurt out something before she passed out, but honestly, this could just be an accident. She’s in the habit of overreacting for the smallest of things. Everything is just an adventure for her. She could be telling it just to take the blame off her. It’s going to attract the media unnecessarily if we either make a statement or file a complaint.”
“Fair enough, but talk to her once. We’ll have to deal with this thing as soon as possible. A few more months, and we’ll have to execute stage three. Four years of hard work, Karan. You can’t juggle with family and business at that critical moment. And I won’t be able to intrude. Just think about it. It’s better to get your hands dirty now and see if there’s anything worth worrying.”
“Alright, I’ll get to this myself. I’ll sort it out in a while. I just have to make sure no one gets wind of this incident.” Karan gulped down the last remaining coffee, crushed the paper cup, and dumped it in the trash can. They walked out of the hospital to the parking lane.
“I’ll head out then. I have to fly back to London tonight. I’ll go back home and stuff.” Karthik stopped to unlock his car. “Alright, get in touch with the Licensing Board and make sure things run smooth. I’ll handle the matter here.” Karan was unperturbed about business issues. He was capable of keeping his cool even in the worst possible situation. “Your client meeting is tomorrow right? Run back to my office. The files you wanted are behind the shelf. You know the key to the safe, right? I’ll tell Prasad to help you out. Just give him a call before you walk in.”
“Don’t worry about all that, Karan. You take care of your family.” Karan hugged his best friend before bidding farewell. As he headed back to the room Surbhi was to be transferred to, he received a message from Neha. He rushed to the hospital to meet the doctor walking outside the room. “Mr. Singhania?”
“Yes, doctor?” Karan seemed anxious. Shalini and Neha stood up and walked to Karan’s side before the doctor could continue. “The patient, Ms. Surbhi Kapoor, may I know how she is related to you, Mr. Singhania?”
“Well, she’s my…”, Karan did not know how to explain his relationship with her. It wasn’t complicated, of course. But it wasn’t simple either. Friend, relative, acquaintance, guest; all those words simply weren’t enough to honor the deep emotional connection that they shared. “She’s our guest, doctor,” Neha intervened. Karan was thankful to Neha for that. “She’s staying with us due to certain professional commitments,” he finished her sentence.
“Alright then, Mr. Singhania, she is fine now. We’ve run tests to check for any internal injuries. There’s nothing to worry about. No fractures or hemorrhage. It’s a minor concussion and a few light bruises. A few analgesics, medication and a week of good rest should do. The remaining instructions have been given to your family by the nurse, I suppose. Do take good care of her. She seems to be very strong, though.” The doctor smiled.
“Yes, she is, doctor.” Karan knew it better than others. “Thank you for your time. Can we see the patient?” Karan couldn’t relax until he was sure she was alright. “Oh, by all means. In fact, she can be discharged in a couple of hours. We’re waiting for the anesthesia to wear off completely.” Karan walked a few steps with the doctor, thanking him and then returned to Surbhi’s room. When he entered, he saw Shalini and Neha already sitting by Surbhi’s side, while Shalini was trying to make Surbhi have some soup which she was strongly resisting.
“Ms. Kapoor, how are you feeling now?” Karan asked. Shalini and Neha, who hadn’t noticed him walk in, were startled. Surbhi didn’t react immediately. Karan took it to be the effect of the anesthesia. Holding the remote control to her bed, Surbhi raised the anterior of the bed to help herself sit in a more upright position. “I’m fine, Mr. Singhania. I’ve been waiting to tell you. About the accident, I actually…”
“Ms. Kapoor, we’ll talk about this after we go home. You need rest now. You’ve travelled a long way and met with an accident. Don’t strain yourself now.” He moved over before she could say anything else, grabbed the remote control and lowered the bed back. She didn’t argue this time. Falling asleep was relatively easy this time. Karan handed Neha the remote control and left the room to the ladies, and walked down to the hospital lobby to complete the formalities.
After Surbhi woke up, the doctor checked all vitals one last time to confirm she was fit. As the mother-daughter duo helped Surbhi walk to the exit, Karan drove the car to the gates. He helped her sit in the front seat. “You’ll be able to recline the seat. Besides, there’s seat belt too,” Karan told to convince her. But, in reality, he did not want to lose sight of her one more time. Making sure she was well settled, he got back into the driver’s seat. He noticed that her seat belt wasn’t on. Without saying a word, he bent over to buckle her up. As Karan reached the belt, their eyes met. They remembered the first time she tried to help him with the seat-belt on the flight to San Francisco. A faint smile lit their faces up. Until then, a thousand different thoughts were running in his mind. But at that moment, the only thing he could see was her tired yet beautiful face, charming yet innocent eyes. He had missed her, a lot more than he would ever accept it himself. One look into Karan’s eyes convinced Surbhi that he would never let anything happen to her. She was amazed at how much his eyes spoke, despite his lips being sewn shut. He didn’t have to say a word, but his eyes would unravel a story. She had missed him, a lot more than she ever knew.
What felt like an eternity of tranquility as they looked at each other, went crashing when Karan pulled back into the driver’s seat, conscious of Neha and Shalini. They seemed to have not noticed anything. “All for the better,” Karan thought. “When it isn’t meant to be, them getting ideas is the last thing I want.” Surbhi played it cool this time, partly because she was tired, and also because there were a thousand other things she had on mind she couldn’t lose focus on. Surbhi slept like a rock the way home. Karan helped her walk to her room. She was drowsy and didn’t seem to be aware of anything around her. Karan helped her settle in her bed. He stayed by her side for a while as she held his right hand tightly. A thousand different thoughts were running in his mind. His face was stern, but as his phone began to vibrate, he was relieved. He slowly tried to free himself from her hands. She held on to him tighter. He slowly pulled the chair a little closer to the bed, not letting go of her hand. Karan slowly kept his left hand over her hand, released his right hand and tucked her in before he left. He walked to the room and closed the door softly behind.
Later that evening…
Surbhi woke up to the sound of what seemed like an argument. Her head still felt a little heavy, but other than that, she was fine. She drank the water from a glass by her bedside table, and managed to walk to the door to her room without making much noise, when she heard Karan speaking to his mother. She opened the door just enough to see them arguing over the dinner table. Shalini was sitting with her back turned to Surbhi, while Karan was standing in front of her, with his arms crossed.
“Ma, I don’t want any more arguments. I’ve entertained her shenanigans so far. I’m not going to do that anymore. Despite what she claims, she doesn’t have the seriousness one should have. Everything is just fun to her.” Karan looked serious. Shalini was trying to calm Karan down. “Karan, listen to me. It’s not right to judge someone like that. She is a little optimistic, and takes things in a lighter spirit. Is it wrong to even be positive in life?”
Karan was outrageous now. He had controlled his emotions long enough to not let it out in the hospital. But, seeing Shalini side with Surbhi, he lost his cool. “She almost killed you, Ma. And you’re telling me she’s optimistic” Karan looked to find Surbhi standing against the door. He watched her, as her eyes moistened slowly. “Ms. Kapoor,” Karan couldn’t manage to speak any further. “Surbhi?” Shalini got off the chair and walked to Surbhi and tried to help her to walk to the table. “I’m fine, aunty. I can take care of myself.” Surbhi didn’t allow Shalini to help her. “Karan, it was not her fault. I would have driven back too. But my right knee started aching at the airport. She had shown me her International Driving License once. I know she was capable of driving, so I let her. I don’t understand why you’re making a big deal out of an accident.”
“It wasn’t an accident, Mr. Singhania.” Surbhi interrupted. She looked down while she spoke. Her hair fell over her face, covering her tears as she spoke. “There was a truck that rammed into us as we drove. I noticed a car following us from the airport itself. I didn’t want to create panic. I thought it would be over if I drive us soon into the city. I sped the car when this truck headed towards us. I tried dodging it, but the truck managed to hit the trunk. That’s how I lost control.” “What are you saying, Surbhi?” Shalini was shocked for a moment.
“Don’t you see, Ma? This is what I was talking about. She has to dramatize everything. She’s putting the blame on some fictitious thing just to make sure she isn’t blamed.” Karan slammed the kitchen table in anger. “Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi was furious, “I’ve told you not to make opinions of others before you learn the truth. I have been driving for three years now, both in NYC and London. So, I damn well know how to drive vehicles in India. And there hasn’t been a single accident on my record so far. So, if you’re thinking that I’m blaming someone because I couldn’t drive a car right, you’re wrong. And if I’m saying that someone staged this accident, the least you should do is take a look into the matter before you jump to conclusions.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Shalini was fed up of them fighting. “Both of you listen to me. I don’t want either of you discussing this topic anymore. Surbhi, you’re going to stop bothering about any of this and go take rest. Karan, you will apologize to her, right this moment and make your peace with the girl. You’ve been cagey with her ever since she turned up, and you’re just not ready to accept her, atleast as a guest, let alone friend. I don’t want to listen either of you speak another word. You get it?” Shalini made herself very clear. Surbhi turned around, without saying a word, left the kitchen and slammed the door shut behind her as she walked into her room. Karan stood still, not knowing what to do.
“Karan, I told you to do something,” Shalini shot him a look. “She just closed the door behind her. How do you want me to apologize?” Karan still did not understand why his mother sided with Surbhi, every time. “I’ve taught you to knock the door. Now, go.” “Alright, I’ll go,” Karan walked back to his room, removing his coat. He stayed in his room for a few minutes to cool himself, and walked back to Surbhi’s room, folding up his sleeves. It suddenly hit him that she was trying to say the same thing about some truck and car right before she passed out. It was worth looking into the matter if she was so sure of it. Now that she was angry and waiting to prove a point, he had set the mood to get all possible information from her. He walked across the hall to her room. He was about to knock the door when Surbhi opened the door, and was quite surprised to find him at her door. “He’s ready to apologize so soon?” Surbhi muttered to herself.
“What?” Karan didn’t hear what she said. “Nothing, I just said how may I help you?” Surbhi kicked herself for being loud enough for him to hear her mutter something. “May I come inside?” Karan asked her politely. “Of course, this is your home. I’m after all, a trouble maker” Surbhi taunted him. “I’m glad we agree on one thing”, Karan muttered.
“What?” Surbhi thought Karan said something. Meanwhile Karan walked into the room and stood near the window sill, looking at the lawn. He turned to Surbhi. “Nothing, I was just here to apologize for what I said earlier. I was worried…” Karan paused midway. “…about my mother. Anyway, you were telling something about an intentional attempt to sabotage the car. What makes you so sure it wasn’t an accident?”
Surbhi pulled the bean bag as fast as possible and indicated Karan to sit on one of the chairs. He was relenting to sit, but he knew Surbhi, and she would possibly start off a tangent if he did not do as she said. “So, I got off the plane and walked to the terminal, where Shalini aunty was waiting. I was surprised she came instead of Ganesh. Then as we walked towards the car, she missed a step and twisted her ankle. I got her first aid, but she was still in pain. So I offered her to drive the way back. Mr. Singhania, trust me, I am really good at driving. I was an exchange student at Cambridge for a semester, and I’m pretty good at driving these vehicles too.”
“Ms. Kapoor, alright, can we get to the point?”Karan was restless now. “I’m trying to make myself clear, because you’ll find something else against me. Yeah, so we just crossed the toll, and then, I thought I noticed a car follow us.” “Ms. Kapoor, any car that leaves the airport has to come along the same way you did. How does that make you think it was following you?”Karan started to believe she was just overreacting. “Mr. Singhania, I gave him the benefit of doubt too. I slowed down and signalled the car to overtake us. He didn’t budge. So, the only way to avoid him was to lose him in the city. I gradually hit the gas without causing alarm to aunty. I was planning to call you, but then the truck rammed into us before I could pick the phone.”
“Okay, but why did you think the truck was involved? The truck might have just rammed into you because he couldn’t judge your speed?”Karan was beginning to think the whole incident might have been staged, but he was still willing to consider all possible scenarios and perspectives before coming to a conclusion. “No, that’s not it. I’ll tell you why. I saw the truck long before it even hit us. Just when it was my line of sight, the car that was following us signaled with its headlights. I didn’t understand what he was trying to do until the truck came at us. The truck was parked on the right side, Mr. Singhania. In India, everything is to the left. I thought the truck was under repair, so I really didn’t take it into account. The moment the car signaled, I was panic-stricken. I didn’t know what to do. The truck started moving just when I was a few feet behind it. Just then the truck made a sharp left. I hit the gas soon as the truck turned left. I managed to almost escape, when the truck hit the trunk. That’s when I lost control. The car turned around and hit the divider.”
“Well, you’re observant, I’ll give you that. I’ll make sure I’ll get down into this. Anything that could help us get hands on these people?”Karan was seething with anger, but this was not the time to let that out. “I couldn’t get my eyes on the truck’s number. I tried looking at the car’s number, but it was a newly registered vehicle, without a number plate. Probably the number was handwritten on a sheet and stuck to the windshield, I couldn’t notice that. But in all probability, it’s a fake one, even if I had noticed. It was a blue sedan, a local brand. I don’t recollect the name or model.”She cupped her hands and dug her face into them.
Karan, although disappointed at not having found any leads, was still glad they made it safely out of such a seemingly well planned assault. While his mind was still running with various thoughts, Surbhi’s soft sobbing drew his attention. His heart melted looking at her. All of a sudden, guilt overshadowed him. He bent down to face her. He pulled her hands away from her face, and tried to console her. “Ms. Kapoor, I’m really sorry for blaming you earlier. I won’t make excuses why I said all that. It was my mistake, and I am truly sorry,” Karan apologized from the bottom of his heart. “No, Mr. Singhania. You were right. It was my fault. I’ve always brought trouble everywhere ever since I’ve met you. I did almost get us both killed today.” She stood up and walked to the window. Karan stood up, walked over to the window, opened the glass, and leaned on to a side. After a pause, he said, “Ms. Kapoor, it wasn’t your fault. In fact, I’m glad you saved my mother from imminent danger. I hope I’ve apologized enough. Now, let’s forget this incident. You have to take rest. I guess you still have a lot planned to torture me in the future. So, let’s have dinner and get on with our lives.” Surbhi let out a faint laugh, looking deep into eyes. It was awfully hard for them to stay mad at each other. They both looked at the crescent moon, smiling over them with beautiful stars around them.
A little later, Karan looked at his watch and headed back towards the door. Surbhi watched him walk towards the door. Just when he was about to open the door, she called him, “Mr. Singhania, you know, Shalini aunty is almost a motherly figure to me now. I don’t remember seeing my own mother, but I feel equally warm around her.” Her eyes welled up as she continued, “I just want you to know that I could never, ever even try to think of causing harm to her.”
Karan stopped in his tracks. He smiled, looking at her. “I know, and I’ll always be counting on that.” He closed the door behind him. “What did he mean?” Surbhi was puzzled.
The Next Morning…
As the morning sun rose, Surbhi was already wide awake. The trauma of the accident slowly took a toll on her. The dreams had started again, and it started a headache. She took a hot shower, got ready and walked over to the lawn outside the living room to take her mind off the past and enjoy the fresh morning. Karan was awake too. He was busy with some paper work. The gentle wind blew in through the window, causing the papers on the desk to fly out all over the room. Flustered, he quickly caught all the papers and arranged them back into the file. He knelt down in front of the sofa to get the last sheet of paper. He opened the drawer, stacked the file into a folder and closed it. As he stood up, he saw Surbhi walking in the lawn. One look at her, and he knew he was smiling. Her mere presence was enough to send flutters to his heart. Dressed in a simple pink Patiala suit, she walked around the lawn, grooving to the music from her earphones, oblivious to the entire world. Although at that moment, she was not the only one reigning oblivion. Karan, sitting at the edge of the bed, was trying to go through the last agreement for a merger he was planning in a few months. He could not get past a single word without looking at her. He sighed with a faint smile. He closed his eyes for a few seconds to get back his focus.
“Aaah!” Surbhi shouted. Karan didn’t even wait till she finished shouting. But by the time he could reach the window, she had already tumbled onto the couch, trying to get into the room. He helped her get up and settle on the couch. “What were you doing, Ms. Kapoor?” Karan covered his face with his hands. Surbhi took a while to comprehend what just happened. “Uh? I was just making cake.”
“What?” Karan was confused. “Ms. Kapoor, the accident took a toll on you. Please take rest. Your bruises need to heal. Also, avoid performing stunts over window sills.” “No, Mr. Singhania. If you’re trying to imply I’ve gone crazy, no I haven’t” Surbhi resisted as he tried to help her get off the couch. She sat cross-legged on the couch. “Well, I suppose I can’t say that. There’s no level of crazy above what you already are.”Karan pulled a stool beside the couch and sat on it. He tried getting her shoes off the cushion, till he realized she wouldn’t budge.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Right now, I just have some things to deal with. I need to take my mind off for a day or two. I was thinking of baking a cake. I saw you here, so I just thought I’ll bake something you like,” Surbhi finally got off the couch and stood up, with her hands crossed. “I don’t eat cake. My diet plan doesn’t allow me to. Thank you.” Karan stood up and tried moving back to the bed. Surbhi just moved to his front, obstructing him. “Trust me, Mr. Singhania. If you try the cake I bake, you’ll forget your diet. If I hadn’t been brilliant with coding, I would have been a chef by now. Stop fidgeting like a little kid and tell me which flavor you like? I like raspberry, kiwi, caramel, coffee and my all-time favorite – Red Velvet. I hate chocolate, pineapple, vanilla…” Surbhi paused to think what else she disliked.
“Well, I like chocolate truffle. And I suppose you’d not bake that cake. So, forget all this and take rest. Now, if you allow me, I have a company to run, and it’s not a piece of cake.” Karan buttoned his coat. Dressed in jeans, a charcoal grey polo t-shirt, and tweed jacket that fitted perfectly on his toned body, he was the definition of a Saturday morning. Wearing sneakers was just the frosting to the cake.
“Alright, Mr. Singhania. We all know you’re good at puns. But why would you like chocolate? It’s dense and bitter… Oh, now I get it.” Surbhi didn’t have to wait for her answer. He picked up his tablet, and started going through some slides for a meeting on Monday. He walked to the door and held it open for her to walk out. “Fine, I’ll go. You don’t have to be so insulting.” Surbhi made a face at him before she left. She waited in the hall till he left home and went back to her room.
At Pegasus Inc. …
At almost noon, Karan was waiting to authorize the last report from the CFO before he left home. After going through some paperwork for Karthik, he received the mails. He printed the report out and filed it into a dossier. He signed them and left it on the table. Walking over to the window, he sipped the last remaining coffee, overlooking the beautiful city. His phone beeped. “That seems odd.” Karan hadn’t got a text in years. It was just odd he’d get one now. Walking over to the table, he checked the message. It read:
Someone told me how much you love Red Velvet. Why didn’t you tell me?
P.S: I hate you, like I hate dark chocolate. xD”
Karan just smiled looking at that text. Dumping his mug into the mini dish washer, he left office immediately. On the way to the car, he took his phone out and replied:
“P.S: I don’t… I never could. :)”
He got into the car. Just as he left, he took a detour to get something special, for someone special.
To be continued…