HAND IN HAND
The Reunion Of A Story
“I was pretty badass today, wasn’t I?” Surbhi pushed and pulled Karan; rather shook him, holding his crossed arms, as he leaned back against the railing, face clearly expressing disinterest. His eyes, however would tell a completely different tale. It wasn’t so much that he had fun bowling, but watching her happiness from that close filled his heart with ecstasy. But, adamant as he was, he would not say a word. “Well, there’s a first time for everything,” he smirked, almost seemingly indifferent. Surbhi hadn’t expected him to be approving, but she had learnt better than to trust his words by now. She always found what she looked for in his eyes. His dreamily gaze every time he looked at her meant the world to Surbhi. Yet, she enjoyed the fool’s game just as much. She let out a very subtle smile before giving the retort back. “It must be a first time too, that you are losing to me, right?”
Definitely not the first time, he thought in his mind, smiling sheepishly. Then he defended himself, and kept a straight face. “Well, let’s just say I’m not as equipped with the ability to design the trajectory of an eleven pound ball, as running a firm. Now, if you’re done, shall we leave?” “Aye, captain,” Surbhi raised her hand in a salute. She couldn’t control her laugh halfway through. She patted on his chest and left towards the counter to return the alley shoes. He smiled while massaging his temples with his hand and turned around to follow her. They headed back to the elevator. They were quiet, all the way to the parking lane. Before starting the car, he called security to check the car up from underneath. He made sure there was no tampering. This had become a routine and Surbhi didn’t mind him being overboard with security. He had his reasons, and she respected it as long as he didn’t force it upon her. She got into the car after he opened the door for her. He walked to the other side and got in.
The drive was almost quiet, except for a while when Shalini had called to make sure they had had dinner. Karan would feel awkward whenever Shalini called. Even when Karan and Surbhi had been making trips to the office over the last week, Shalini would either call Surbhi, but even when she did call Karan, her conversation with Karan was limited to him being instructed to hand the phone to Surbhi. Karan let go, assuming that there could only be so much mediating conversation that can happen when a man is stuck between a mother and, well, a guest.
Surbhi grew restless after a while. “Well, Mr. Singhania I never got a chance to compliment you. You look really handsome, with the new look. Really suits you. You should get a break from those coats. If it really matters, it’s not my opinion. I picked it from those girls who kept staring at you, despite your heavenly bowling skills,” Surbhi rolled her eyes.
“I’d say thank you, but you’d take that to mean I would ever actually wear these weird looking costumes…” Karan barely managed to smile. “Oh, come on! It’s not a costume, this is called fashion. And if you didn’t like the shirt anyway, why would you have bought…” Surbhi stopped midway, realising the truth. She was shocked at her supposed revelation. She decided to continue building on her theory, “…unless, you never bought it yourself. But, if you never bought it yourself, why would you want to show off like you made the choice out of genuine personal interest by slipping in some extremely generic, yet well-played reference to the Star Wars Trilogy, which I can bet you have never seen? You wanted it to look as though it was a lifestyle you had given up, but existent, right? It would be a piece of cake for you to make it seem as though you did this for me. And that, would at some point in the future, entitle you to a favour which you would use as decent leverage. Tell me I am wrong.” By the end of it, Surbhi had a concrete theory of how things had unfolded.
“Ms. Kapoor, do you make sense to yourself, at least?” Karan was back into the defensive game, especially now that he started to believe that what she had said might actually be true, albeit partially. His calling the “Star Wars bluff”, as Surbhi put it, was something that he did instinctively, for Surbhi, and he took no time to weigh in all the factors before saying anything. He did not know the repercussions would bring him this far. He did not see any other way to conceal his motive than to merely argue.
“I do. What doesn’t make sense is how calculative you are.” Surbhi’s temper rose. “What?” Karan was taken aback. “Then tell me why you lied. I think we have genuinely established that you never wear such t-shirts in the first place. I can disprove you on every other account, but a confession of guilt is far better than humiliation, Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi was deliberately triggering him. Of course she knew what was on Karan’s mind, but she wanted it out in the open, not just remain locked up in his heart. “Think about it. You might even get away with something I still haven’t thought of.”
“Listen. You literally did threaten me into wearing something this ridiculous. I agree you were only joking. But, this was a gift and the only pair of clothes I had that matched your criteria. So, I did decide to wear it, to avoid further nausea from your end. I was curious about what it was. So, I looked it up. And when you walked in, I did not want you to think I did this for you. You’d make a mountain out of a molehill. Guess that is exactly how things turned out anyway.” Karan was focusing hard to find the best way possible to avoid a conflict. “But you wore it for me?” Surbhi was trying to get him to agree. “Yes, but it was never in an expectation of any favour. I’m sorry if that’s how you think of me, but no; the only reason I did what you asked me was to see you happy,” Karan’s face was straight. He was annoyed that she turned the whole thing around against him. He started focusing on the road, avoiding her gaze. In an attempt to conceal his emotions, he merely expressed his feelings. Surbhi blushed, and turned to the window looking outside, enjoying the acknowledgment. She didn’t have to argue anymore, for she had won over a bigger hurdle. Karan had taken a step forward; no, she had made Karan take a step forward, considering her happiness before his own way of life. She couldn’t realize why his presence, why his concern for her, was so important to her; and yet, she didn’t feel the need to find out.
Karan, on any other occasion, would have cursed himself for such a faux pas. Today, instead, he felt at peace soon as he confessed. His felt bittersweet at the moment. Although he had begun to hate the fact that all the emotions he shared with her surfaced only after arguments, he considered this to be the safest outlet for him. He was just as confused as her about what brought them together. They both were perturbed about why it was important for them that they had a special place for each other. After a while, both were hesitant to speak, for they were both, in unison, of the opinion that words would only ruin the moment, and distract them from the simple, yet beautiful silence. Surbhi brushed her hair with her hand, and reached out to the deck to turn the radio on. Barely had she touched the knob, she was interrupted by Karan’s hand as he reached to turn the radio on. He pulled his hand back, slightly, as he folded his fingers into a fist, and then placed it on the gearstick. Surbhi suddenly realized that she wasn’t familiar with the local stations in Bangalore. Even if she did successfully switch the radio on, she would have to wait for him to change the channel. She too pulled back indecisively, and waited for Karan to realize it. As soon as she pulled back, Karan realized that she wasn’t aware of the local stations frequencies. He immediately turned the stereo on and switched to a channel he usually listened to. Whenever she needed him, he would magically be there, and she didn’t have to speak a word. Surbhi was amazed at how telepathic they both were. Fate smirked, thinking that only a fool would call a conversation between two hearts telepathy.
We often never witness miracles. But when they do happen, we feel as though someone had been listening to our lives all along and decided to put some magic into it. And in those moments of thankfulness, all one can and should do is appreciate the circumstances, attribute it to coincidence, and merely indulge in the beauty of time, thanking fate for picking the right moment to bring two hearts together.
Lafzon se jo tha pare
Khaalipan ko jo bhare
Kuch toh tha tere mere
Rishte ko kya mod doon
Naata yeh ab tod doon
Ya phir yun hi chhod doon
Benaam rishta woh…
Benaam rishta woh, bechain karta jo
Ho na sake jo bayaan
Kuch toh tha tere mere darmiyaan…
Kuch toh tha tere mere darmiyaan…
(Song: Darmiyaan Movie: Jodi Breakers Lyrics: Irshad Kamil)
For Karan, it was as though the song voiced his feelings verbose. He never understood how magically coincidental some things were. As much as the song made him feel like he had expressed his feelings, he felt Surbhi would not realize that. That would happen only when he would say it himself, which was, never. A mere side ward glance to look at Surbhi, her face down, with a gentle smile that lit up his world, proved him wrong. He did not know whom to thank; the radio jockey, for his unparalleled timing, or Surbhi for confusing his life and yet somehow make it more meaningful, or fate, for bringing her into his life.
Soon, they reached home. Karan didn’t stop in front of the porch. If not anything else, he at least owed her, the escort back to the house. Surbhi didn’t protest either. She quietly got out of the car and waited for him to accompany her back. There were some subtleties about Karan that Surbhi really admired. Despite his defensive demeanor, his chivalry overshadowed all his setbacks. The credit was due to Shalini, more than him. Surbhi admired the kind of strength Shalini had, to run a family single-handedly, and be able to give the kids an upbringing, many parents failed to give despite all provisions. Each passing day, as their differences dissolved, she felt more drawn to him. She would probably never dare to admit it herself, but she knew there were sparks she couldn’t overlook.
Walking back towards a place she had of late, grown to call home, Surbhi started thinking about how much she would hate to go back to the states. Sure, it was her home there. Her entire life was back there. But, she felt equally loved here amidst Shalini and Neha. Her Mr. Singhania had his own, unorthodox ways to show that he cared, and sometimes he probably wouldn’t show it, but there was not a force in the world that could make her believe he didn’t care. She couldn’t deny that she would miss him more than anyone else.
Karan couldn’t help but think the same. He thought about how much Surbhi going back would really affect him. He was glad, to some extent that she would actually leave. It wasn’t because he despised her ways. He never had. Her going back would mean an end of a struggle within him. Growing up, he had seen what a life of hardship was. The hardships had made him cold, and ruthless. He embraced them with the thought that they were his penance for the sins of his father, the pain of which was borne by his mother and sister. He distanced himself from most people on a personal front. Shalini taught him to be calm and well-mannered, to treat everyone with respect, to carry his self-respect with pride. To do that, to make sure no one ever questioned his upbringing or his family, he spent all his power to become a hard-working, talented, respectable, and successful young man. That came at the cost of hiding his own emotions, not giving them enough credit, even disregarding them at times, and he turned into a stern, short-tempered, and introverted person, who would make every decision without ever taking feelings into account.
Despite starting a new life, he never forgot his past. Seeing his mother tirelessly working day and night to make ends meet, his hate for his own father only bubbled like lava underneath a volcano. He grew up in the hate that Neha had to take care of her own, without pampering and affection, because Karan and Shalini would work all day, to give both Karan and Neha good education. With time, he learnt to both deny and accept his life. He denied treating his father with respect, or even considering him his father. Karan also accepted the fact that he was Sharath Singhania’s son, and would at some point turn into the same monster he feared. He never let anyone into his life in the fear that one day, he would abandon them in the same way his father did. And he was worried about Surbhi for exactly the same reason. He cared about her, far too much to even think of hurting her. Letting her into his life would bring upon the inevitable, he thought.
Surbhi, in her train of thoughts, was driven to a different world altogether. She believed in the present being a gift. She did worry about the future, but not so much that it would ruin her present. She trashed the thought of what would happen a week later and, at the moment was enjoying the short walk back to home and didn’t think of anything else. In what seemed like a trance, they took a sharp right towards the porch and Surbhi stepped on one of the bricks lodged into the ground that lined the lawn and kept it from growing onto the gravel path. She stumbled and lost her balance. Almost instantaneously, Karan’s reflexes kicked in. He quickly held her, supporting her from the waist with one hand, and her hand in his hand. As he held her, all his thoughts were lost at once in the deep trenches of Surbhi’s eyes. She was breathtakingly beautiful. The magic in her eyes kept him distracted from everything else. He could feel her heartbeat, beating like it was his own. She was still recovering from the shock and fright that she would fall, and was breathing heavily. He couldn’t have known it, but he felt her lose herself to him. He could look at her like that all night, without blinking an eye.
Surbhi suddenly shut her eyes and shrieked in pain. The slip from the brick had caused her to lose balance, and her ankle had got wedged in between two bricks. Karan pulled himself together, and helped her stand up, and she lifted her right leg up as she shut her eyes tighter, and held on to the shirt right next to his neck so tight, Karan heard a couple of stitches snap. He shook his head and supported her until she sat down on the ground. “Ms. Kapoor,” Karan tried to talk to her. Her eyes were still shut, a couple of tears making their way out to her cheeks. But she didn’t respond. She still kept her foot above the ground, and was in tremendous pain.
“Surbhi,” Karan said, firmly. She opened her eyes and muttered a muffled “Huh?” Seeing her hand still holding on to his shirt, she slowly let go of it. She looked down and bit her lip. “Could you hold the flashlight for me?”Karan handed her his phone. “Yeah, okay,” she said. As she held the light to her feet, he nimbly undid her shoelace, and in on swift move, removed the shoe to check for a bruise or swelling. She hissed in pain. He noticed a slight reddening of the skin next to her ankle. He was sure it wasn’t a sprain or fracture. He turned to her, “Ms. Kapoor, there’s nothing to worry. It’s a bad ankle twist, but I don’t think it’s a sprain. Let’s go in and treat it. If there’s any swelling by morning, we’ll go see a doctor. Let’s see if you can get up. He stuffed the sock back into the sneaker and handed it to her. Taking his phone back, he helped her get up. As she rose, she landed her right foot on the ground by accident, and lost control in a fit of pain. Karan held on to her and slowly got her back on the ground. “It’s really painful, Mr. Singhania. I can’t,” Surbhi’s eyes welled up. Karan saw the lights were out in the front porch; a standard signal that Shalini and Neha followed whenever they would retire for the night if Karan hadn’t returned. If either of them were awake while Karan was away, the light would always be on. Karan checked his pocket for the keys. Handing them over to Surbhi, he said, “Alright, let’s go,” and bent to pick her up in his arms.
“Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi tried to talk him out of it, but it was too late. “Oh, oh,” she held the keys and her sneaker in her left hand and wrapped her right hand over Karan’s neck. Karan lifted her with ease. Surbhi was slender, and quite fit for her age. Either way, she was no match for the weights Karan lifted in his workout regime. As he walked towards the door, she longed for the path to never reach home. But in no time, they were in front of the door. He bent forward and crouched to reach low enough for Surbhi to open the door. She silently struggled to maintain her balance and reached for the lock, and with some effort, unlocked the door. He stood up and held Surbhi firmly, turned sideways and slowly pushed the door inward with his feet, careful to not make any noise. There were night lamps fixed behind translucent panels at regular intervals along the bottom of the wall all over the house that lit the hallway for Karan, enough to find his way to Surbhi’s room. He slowly helped her sit on the bed, and turned the lights on. “Remove your shoes, settle down and drink some water. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He walked back to his room and changed quickly into a black full-sleeves sweatshirt and tracks. Dumping the clothes into the laundry bag, he picked the first-aid box in his drawer and almost ran back to Surbhi’s room, but not before making a trip to the fridge. Surbhi was still drinking the water. “This spray should work its magic,” he said as sprayed the pain reliever around the ankle. “I’ll keep the icepack to counteract any swelling. It’s going to pain a bit. Just hold on,” he said as he rolled out the crape bandage and spun it around her leg and the icepack. She held tightly onto the pillows and made as little sound as possible, taking care to not wake Shalini and Neha. After he was done, he looked at her reassuringly, and stood up to leave.
Just as he was about to leave, she held his hand. He turned back, “What happened, Ms. Kapoor?” Surbhi smiled at him. He was sounding genuinely sweet. “Thank you, Mr. Singhania,” she replied. He walked back, sat down next to her. “Well, I should thank you. I can go easy on the weights tomorrow morning.” He smiled gently. She frowned and punched him playfully in the arm. “Alright, now sleep, and don’t think about the pain. We’ll see what happens tomorrow morning. If you need anything, don’t get off the bed. Give me a call, understood?” Karan instructed her. “Aye, captain!” Surbhi laughed, doubled with a playful salute. Karan shook his head and turned around to walk out of the room. “Incredibly childish,” he muttered as he shut the door behind him.
He walked back to his room. He knelt down to keep the first-aid box back into the drawer. As he rose, he heard the window creak. He became alert for a second, and then seeing the form that became visible, he rubbed his temples with his right hand. “You should quit being a venture capitalist and look for prospects in robbery,” Karan sighed. “What’s the big difference? Both loot people, and before they realize it, we’re gone,” Karthik jumped onto the window sill. “One of them just wears uncomfortable but expensive suits all the time.” He laughed as he lunged forward into the room in one quick jump, making sure to not let his shoes touch the couch. The man was as tall as Karan, perhaps an inch more. He was lean but well built. Slim-fit black jeans, paired with a charcoal grey polo t-shirt, and a plain light gray blazer with elbow patches. His skin was a light shade of coffee, and hair, jet black. He had a mole on his left cheek, visible on his clean shaven face. He sported a black round dial watch with black metal links on his right hand, and black high top sneakers.
“Whatever,” Karan was almost exhausted. “You could have walked in through the door. If people saw you sneak in like this, there’s a good chance someone will call the police.” “By someone, do you mean your Ms. Kapoor?” Karthik crossed his arms while looking at Karan, who gave back a dirty look. “Anyway,” he continued, “it’s alright. I didn’t want to ring the bell. I guess everyone is asleep. So, there’s nothing to worry about.” He walked over to the mirror in front of the walk-in wardrobe, and noticed the dumped clothes in the laundry bag. “So, how’s that love life of yours going along? You’re wearing t-shirts for her now? At this rate, you’ll become a puppet soon. But, I should give her credit. I’ve been trying for almost eight years to get you to wear a t-shirt, and she did it in a month and a half. Not bad. Well, if not anything else, thank me for making you keep the t-shirt for a rainy day.”
“What rubbish? Keep all this romance and love to yourself. Don’t get them into my life. She’s going back in a week. Don’t you dare talk all this nonsense at home, especially when she is around; it’s already getting weird. I don’t want you making a mess,” Karan pointed at the couch to Karthik. They both sat down. “So, what’s going on with you? You seem particularly happy.” Karan could notice the difference in his face, brighter than he had seen in the last ten years of their friendship. “Yeah, happy to take out money and spend it all on some start-up. You know, if we had the kind of money I am investing on this start-up in Cairo, we could have had unmatched monopoly over our software right now. I spend so much money on these guys, but the growth curve is never steep in the first year. Remember the growth statistics report you had drafted three years ago to present in the California Start-Up meet? I’ve never seen another start-up with a curve that steep till date.” He shook his head.
“Lack of money was the reason we had to scale our growth, right? If we had the funds, we would have considered a slower pace and safer bets.” Karan believed that struggle was necessary for success. It was impossible to gain anything without sacrifice. “We at least wouldn’t be playing this dangerous game, mate. Alright, coming back to why I am here. I’ll be here until next Sunday. I was thinking of preparing the Egypt venture’s paperwork this Monday. I wanted you to take a look at it once. It’s always good to make another set of eyes look out for any anomaly.”
“Alright. We’ll do that. In the meanwhile, take those other papers with you. I wanted to keep it safe. The last thing I want is to have people find it in my house. I have a few things on my mind, and I don’t want to worry about this too.” Karan walked over to the wardrobe, and opened the safe. He took out a couple of files, and checked them before handing it over to Karthik. “Don’t worry. It’ll be safe. Forget about it now. I’ll leave then. I’ll see you at your office on Monday.” Karthik rose to leave. “Wait, you came here to tell me something, right?” Karan stood up and crossed his arms. “Not the right time, buddy. I’ll let you know soon. I thought I should tell you, but not like this, not here,” Karthik shook his head. “Your call. But, if there’s anything, the first thing you do is come over to office, or home. And walk in through the doors the next time.”
Karan and Karthik met in a warm embrace before Karthik checked the files once again before leaving. They both walked into the hallway making no noise. Karan slowly opened the door and escorted Karthik back to the main gate. After he left, Karan waited until the guard locked the gates and went back to his cabin. He walked back at a brisk pace, locked the doors from the inside, and went ahead to his room and bolted all the windows. Once he drew the blinds, he went back to the laundry bag to pick up his wallet and keys. As he checked his denims for any other valuables, he noticed something on the sleeve of the t-shirt. He picked the t-shirt up. He slowly untangled the metallic object, seemingly gold, but in appearance, both dull, and simple. It took him a minute of scrutiny to identify it as an earring. “Whose earring could this…” Karan shut his eyes, in disbelief of his own idiocy in asking that question. He immediately turned to the door, but realized that she would be sound asleep. He took the earring and dropped it into a drawer in his wardrobe, where he kept all his delicate and necessary items, keys, watches, glasses and his gun.
“I’m getting deeper and deeper into this. If I can make it another ten days, and life can go back to normal. I’ll make Steve handle everything abroad. As long as I am seeing her, it’s going to be just as tough. Life would have been so much simpler if I hadn’t sent that recruitment letter. You have to pay for your mistakes. I should have realized that.” He punched the wall in anger, pain, and a mixture of several other emotions he didn’t know he had within him. Dumping all the clothes back into the laundry bag, he retired for the night, and tried to sleep and while he still could, worried if Surbhi would be alright by the morning.
To be continued…