Priya couldn't believe her ears when Vikram informed her of the time that she had to be in for work the next morning. She held her breath and without protesting she excused herself to the washroom. Leaning forward, she made a fist around the chunk of granite countertop on either side of the ivory white sink. The fiery glare in her eyes stemmed from the deepest pits of her heart fuelling a compelling urge to maintain a fixed gaze on the smooth beveled mirrors as if she sought to catch a glimpse of Ram in her reflection.
Priya: 6am? You have got to be fricken kidding me. There is no way... I-I will quit before I sell my pride to this ruthless, egotistic psycho.
The fable stench of her empty threat was so overwhelming that even she didn't believe herself. Muttering aimlessly in the company of four walls she entered a stall and began roughly peeling back the layers to the fake persona she was portraying.
Priya: (mocking the messenger that guided her) "Ram Kapoor is just a typical businessman, strict to his policies, which makes him rough around the edges but he is definitely not a monster." Ha! (She blurted rather loudly) No he is not a monster he is the king of monsters. Yes that's right he is King Monster, a rude dinosaur who doesn't have the decency to meet me in person.
Priya donned her simple salwar and began kicking off her heels before slipping into her comfortable ankle sandals that she came prepared with in her medium sized purse.
Priya: (continues her mocking) "Ram hates traditional clothing. When it comes to business it's a suit and a tie for men and a skirt suit for women, no exceptions." Well Mr. Kapoor with a capital K like in Khadoos, you have to accept me as I am. There is no exception to that. If I am going to take an emotional beating from you than at least I should be comfortable, physically. She pulled open the stall door with more force than required nearly losing her stance but quickly readjusting to an upright position.
Once again she met her reflection in the mirror but this time she actually recognized herself. Smoothing her palm over her Salwar she pressed down on the minor creases that resulted from being scrunched up in her bag.
Priya: (with Pride) Now this is more like me� Ms. Priya Sharma� imperfectly perfect with an aura of simplistic elegance. I love it!
Her eyes fell on the smooth edged rectangular faceplate of her timepiece that her father had gifted her when she graduated from her masters in business management program, not too long ago. Off course now the world as she knew it was upside down and the bubbly parents she knew to turn it right side up were content in the peacefulness of the gloomy sadness that prevailed. Hope, which once coursed through her papa's veins was now clearly replaced with animosity. If Ram was on a mission for revenge than Priya was also on the same path only to shed some clarity on the reality of the storm that shook everyone from the root up.
Priya: (with a little more determination) 6am... Fine 6am it is. Mr.Kapoor, game on!! It's about time that you meet your match...
Splashing a handful of cool water on her face, she patted it dry and than took out her phone to dial the man who orchestrated this plan. Realizing her phone had been switched off, she turned it on and immediately as some life flashed into it, she received a call.
Priya: (the list of missed calls lined up from her home phone number begged her to probe) hello.. Ma, is everything okay?
Shipra: (in one fearful, desperate breath, she spoke) Priya Beta, Karthik. Without listening to the entire story he took Kush and is headed to the Kapoor Mansion. Priya what will we do? Our plan for justice? Everything is over...
Priya: (panicked) Ma wasn't Karthik supposed to arrive from London later on this evening?
Shipra: Yes beta, but his flight landed early and he went home to the old apartment to surprise us. Not finding us there he asked around and someone told him about the address to our new flat. When he came here he saw him and just jumped the gun...
Priya: (a thin layer of sweat built up on her freshly washed face leading her to pat the areas dry with her palm) um o-okay... (she stuttered, consciously trying to keep her composure as thoughts of losing her baby polluted her mind more so than the destruction of a plan) I-I am at Kapoor Industries right now and Kapoor Mansion is not too far from here. Before Karthik reaches there I will stop him. O-okay Ma, I am hanging up the phone please relax and keep Papa calm too.
Karthik forged an entry into the Kapoor Mansion with Kush screaming at the top of his lungs. The security guards who were initially pushed aside by Karthik raced after him seeing their jobs fading as a result of their unsuccessful attempt to contain him.
Karthik: (shouting while pushing open the tall doors leading into the mansion) AMARNATH!!
Sheena, who was just passing through the living area to get to her room, came head to head with an infuriated beast with no shackles.
Sheena: (she looked around for protection; noticing the security guards trailing close to where she stood offered her a whiff of relief) Y-es can I help you?
Karthik: (his anger lit up a scorching flame in his eyes) who the hell are you? The house maid? Go call the owner of Kapoor industries; I have some trash that belongs to him. (He briefly glanced at Kush whose only fault was being born)
On the verge of spewing more venom Karthik opened his mouth but before his hateful thoughts passed through his vocal cords he felt a sharp tug at his left shoulder followed immediately by sting on his cheek on the same side. Krishna, Ram's mother, came downstairs as fast as she could, forced to leave her room for the first time in months. She couldn't have cared less about the screaming of an angry man; in fact she expected such an event, being well in the loop of the secrets buried in the walls of her hollow mansion. However, the mother in her could not ignore the strangely familiar echoes of a baby crying. Guided by instincts she snatched Kush from Karthik who was not the least bit deterred by her action. His focused gaze was fixed on the man who dared to slap him, Ram Kapoor. As soon as both his arms were free Karthik fisted Ram's collar penetrating violent nudges in synch with his forward strides.
Karthik: (his hurt ego took over, completely forgetting the reason why he came to the mansion in the first place) I WILL KILL YOU!! HOW DARE YOU LAY YOUR DIRTY HANDS ON ME!
Ram: (not wanting to be outdone, he grabbed Karthik's collar just as tightly and pushed back) I HAD NO CHOICE, YOU'RE PARENTS ARE FAILURES. THEY OBVIOUSLY DIDN'T TEACH YOU ANY MANNERS ON HOW TO TALK TO A WOMAN (referring to Sheena).
Karthik: I ONLY CALLED IT HOW I SAW IT! YOU CAN DRESS A PROSTITUTE UP IN FANCY CLOTHING BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY SHE IS STILL THE SAME. (Sheena's mouth gaped at the unsuspecting and rather uncalled for insult)
Ram: YOU BETTER CHECK YOURSELF. (Chucking Karthik back and off balance roughly)
Krishna: RAM!! (She screamed rocking Kush in her arms) Sheena tell him to stop...
Sheena: (she secretly wanted Ram to make the man who humiliated her pay for his ill manners) Ram (she tried consoling him pathetically, positioning herself in front of him) it's okay. Just leave it.
Before Ram could reply Karthik leapt forward aiming at him with a closed fist but Priya held him back in the nick of time.
Karthik: (trying to tug free from Priya's grip he continued staring angrily at Ram) DI, LEAVE ME!
Priya: (struggling with his rigorous attempts) Karthik stop it... Please Karthik... Just listen to me... Let's go home!
Karthik: (sarcastically) Home? What home di? This bas***d and his brother ruined everything...
Unable to contain him Priya utilized the only option that she saw fit. Prior to any irreversible damage, she swung her hand over her head, giving Karthik the second stinging sensation to his cheek that hour. He piped down immediately and glanced at her in astonishment. Everyone was equally puzzled, especially Ram who had not a single clue as to how to react. A wave of guilt erupted within Priya when Karthik glared at her, the anger that once resided in his pupils now replaced with the purest of hurt. She was stunned but helpless, capturing the retreating figure of her baby brother, the most rightfully spoiled amongst the three Sharma siblings. Karthik left the mansion without a word more and as he left Priya turned apologetically to Ram. She had seen Kush comfortably lounging in Krishna's embrace, exactly where he belonged and so that was one worry off her mind.
Priya; I am so sorry Mr. Kapoor... (She was interrupted by sudden presence of his large palm in her face)
Ram: (through gritted teeth) I should have known that he was your brother... Ill-mannered idiot... If you're really sorry for what your good-for-nothing brother did than apologize to Sheena bhabhi, like you mean it.
Priya: (to a shocked Sheena whose past had just crept up on her out of the blue) I am so sorry M'aam please excuse my brothers mistake. I know my sister has done you wrong in the past as well and for that I also apologize today. I am gravely sorry on their behalf. Look I am grateful for Mr. Kapoor, who put the past behind him giving me a job when no one else wanted to hire me.
Ram: (interrupting once more, this time with words not gestures) who says you still have a job?
Amarnath: (standing at the doorstep, sober for a change) I do!! (Everyone watched attentively as he continued) Priya Sharma will work as Ram's secretary in the Kapoor Industries and that's my order.
Ram: (looked at Priya and than back at Amarnath) Papa why are taking her side after everything that her family has done to us?
Amarnath: (walks up to Ram gripping his shoulder) it's time to let bygones be bygones. The past is too painful but the present is a shining ray of hope (he looked at Priya whose eyebrows were knotted in confusion) and it's letting me know that the future is promising.
Ram: (shrugging his father's hand aside) How convenient... After Sid's death everyone drowned in their own sorrow forgetting Sheena bhabhi and the unbearable feeling of pain and deceit that she is still living with to this day. This past year when I needed you Papa you were chugging back bottles passed out in the bar. When the company needed your leadership and expertise, you flat out disowned it denying any part in decision-making. But today you took her side (pointing at Priya) instead of mine, making the first decision in months in spite of what I said? And Ma (Krishna stared into the agonizing glare in his eyes) after Sids death you finally came out of your room not to be my mother but to shower your motherly affection on this illegitimate child. (Kush remained calm gnawing at Krishna's necklace and cooing in a state of pure bliss and oblivion)
Amarnath: (understanding his grief) Ram beta...
Ram: (interrupting, rudely at that�) No! Enough! I don't need your sympathy...
He walked away in long, impactful strides just as Karthik had done not too long ago, with untruthful thoughts of betrayal from people they called their own. His threatening glare remained glued on Priya, sending chills up and down the length of her spine simultaneously. Priya knew without having to be told that the coming days had just gotten a whole lot more difficult for her.
Sheena: (she spoke, finally shattering her silence) Umm Mummyji don't worry, I will talk to him. (And on that note she made her exit following the identical path created by Ram)
Priya's heart finally sighed deeply in relief, literally dodging a bullet. Her legs were like two blocks of lumber, hard and stiff she stood frozen but knew that she had to move and that too, quickly. Without sparing a second more to think she pivoted, facing Krishna and Amarnath. They stood, almost indifferent by the event that just ceased but nonetheless Priya apologized with her palms fused together.
Priya: Sorry Sir, Ma'am�
Amarnath: (stepping forward) Please Priya, don't be so formal� In fact, I should be apologizing for whatever happened� Ram doesn't know everything and how it occurred, he just came home from America when he heard that Sid� (he glanced at Krishna whose expressions revealed that she was inching back into the dark hole of depression) Forget all that and please forgive Ram on my behalf. I won't let him do you any harm in the office and that's my promise�
Priya: (swallowing her anger) Hmmm� (Lending her arms forward she began cajoling Kush) Kush come baby� Ghar Chale?
Kush refused to give in to Priya's calls; instead he bounced happily in Krishna's arms grasping on to her mangalsutra.
Krishna: (analyzing Priya's panicked reaction) You have a very cute child, he reminds me of Siddhant.
Priya practically choked on her breath trying to form a couple of words in her defense. The perplexed look on her face was by no means unnoticed by Krishna. It was almost as if she had thrown a bait to see if Priya would bite.
Amarnath: Haan� you are right Krishna�I was also thinking the same� Yaad hain when Siddhant was a baby he was so fascinated by your mangalsutra�(he chuckled in reminiscence and Krishna smiled)
Krishna: (fully nostalgic by this point) How can I forget? Kitna cute tha woh, bilkul iss baby ke taara� What's his full name?
Priya: (coughed lightly) uh Kush� My baby's name is Kush Sharma�
Priya: Haan woh�His father left us when Kush was just a few weeks old and so I raised him all by myself� (she improvised a story being caught off guard by the sudden plethora of questions)
Once more she coaxed Kush jiggling her house keys in front of him to get his attention but aside from a spilt second of a glance Kush remained amused by Krishna's chain.
Krishna: Let me walk you out to the gates�Maybe by than little Kush will be satisfied�And this way I can also spend some time in the beautiful memory of my son�
Priya chuckled nervously being left with no other option but to accept the only offer on the table. When they reached the gates Kush's attention was finally diverted by a shiny glare that bounced of the badge on the security guards hat as the sun rays bathed in its grooves. Opportunistically Priya took Kush in her arms and hastily bid adieu to Krishna. But before she could even take a step off Kapoor property Krishna asked confidently as if she already knew the answer and the question was just a formality for her assumption.
Krishna: Yeh Siddhant aur Ayesha ke baby hain na?
Priya: (donned her poker face to hide her shell shock reaction, Priya pivoted once more to face her) Nahi�Aunty this is my�
Krishna: (interrupts) Priya, a mother's heart can never be wrong when it comes to these things� Kush's every action; his every look is a replica of Siddhant� You know, after Sid's death I locked myself in my room and refused to speak with anyone. I buried my smile because I have no right to any pleasure. It was my punishment to myself�I watched my son dying and couldn't do anything about it�Every minute of everyday I wonder what would have happened if we had gotten Siddhant and Ayesha married just like it was planned? My husband drinks to numb himself from the same pain� Siddhant and Sheena's marriage was a business move�But the day they got married the son I knew had burned to ashes in the same holy fire that Amarnath pushed him into for the welfare of the Kapoor Industries� And I just watched it all happen, knowing that he loved Ayesha. Eventually the inevitable occurred and I did nothing to stop it. Amarnath chose money over his friendship with your dad and it cost two families more than we can ever pay to fix� (she grabbed on to Priya's shoulder seeing the glint of tears in her eyes) Priya please beta, for the sake of my sanity�(she gently caressed Kush's tiny head) This is Siddhant and Ayesha's son, na?
Priya: (wiping the tears from the corner of her eyes stealthily) It's not easy or safe for me to give you an answer�But you are right, a mother's heart knows best� So I would trust it� (she confessed indirectly)
Krishna: Thanks Priya� (Kissing Kush's tiny hand several times, she continued) I don't know what you are planning on doing by putting your hand in fire and working for Ram�But just be careful, he's really angry�And know that whatever you're doing, I am on your side� If there is anything that I can do to help�
Priya: yes there is something that you can do� Look Aunty, I might be out of place saying this but I think wherever Siddhant is right now he will be in a great deal of sorrow knowing that you are living like this. And I don't know the relationship that Mr. Kapoor and Siddhant shared in that much detail but I am confident that Siddhant would be bothered to know that his little brother is in such anguish. I know that Mr. Kapoor doesn't know the entire truth and that is why he is so angry but in this time of grief and uncertainty, he needs you. Unknowingly you have stripped Mr. Kapoor of his innocence; he was forced to fill Siddhants shoes and it's too much for him to handle. Please, if you want to help than be the mother that Mr. Kapoor needs and I will be the mother that Kush needs. One day everything will be fine� I know� (Kissing Kush on his head) Whatever I am doing, I am doing for him and his rights. (They shared a peaceful smile amongst them through the pending chaos as they watched Kush cooing and bouncing in Priya's arms) I should go now before anyone sees�
Krishna: Baldev, our driver can drop you�
Priya: No that's fine�
Krishna: Please Priya I insist�(getting teary eyed) I don't know how much longer I have left in this world, please let me clear part of my conscience�
Priya: (nodding) okay�
Krishna stood outside for a while as the black sedan drove away and over a small hill until it was no longer visible. Jolted by a sudden surge of life that had failed her before, she exhaled and walked back into the mansion with a slight pep in her step.