The sight of Kush fast asleep in the cradle of her arms felt so precious to Priya as if she had travelled every corner of the world to gather what was left of peace on earth and selfishly safeguarded it in this moment. No matter the consequence for her greed she was too relieved to be bothered. This was the first time since Kush had woken up at 4am with a fever that he achieved some level of comfort. It was a shame however that the serenity in her view could not put to rest, even briefly, the commotion replaying in her mind. Thoughts of a very short day, rich in nerve pinching events was the sole culprit to her madness. She sighed and shook her head unable to decide if she was more disturbed by what had happened or by what she could foreshadow would unfold in the coming days. However, one thing was for certain and she had vowed many times to herself before engaging in this battle that Kush would not be negatively affected. She would live through this nightmare and wake him up as soon as the beautiful dream started. On that note, her well sculpted pair of lips attested to Kush's febrile state as she lightly kissed his forehead adding to the previously established count.?She placed him carefully in the crib next to her bed, admiring him momentarily in his sleep before heading out to the kitchen. Karthik, who had retuned home in a drunken state the night before, was awake at last, chowing down a bowl of corn flakes, his usual brunch. It was obvious from Karthik's complete disregard of her presence that he was still mad at Priya for an unwarranted assault in the Kapoor Mansion.?
Priya: (in an attempt to lighten his mood and pave the way for an overdue apology) Good morning my baby brother. (She pulled out the chair across from him and sat down) Karthik... (He continued to ignore her) I am so sorry for yesterday. Please forgive me.?
Sudhir and Shipra whom were sitting on the sofa in the living room occupied with their usual task at that time of the day, glanced up in anticipation for Karthik's response. Unfortunately their attention and Priya's apology were of no value to Karthik because he had already made up his mind with regards to this situation. Thrusting the chair back, he pushed himself up and without even making any eye contact, his voice came out bland and uninterested.?
Karthik: By the end of the week I will find a job and move out of this so called home. (Shipra, Sudhir and Priya stood up stunned upon hearing his notice)?
Shipra: (shrieked) Karthik what has gotten into you. (She walks over to him, caressing his arm and buttering him up for persuasion) Let's all sit and talk about this like a family.?
Karthik: Like a family? (he scoffed) What family? The Kapoors took away the things that mattered the most to us but you guys seem to have forgotten. Ayesha di is no more� (his voice choked and his eyes glistened with tears that were destined to fall from the moment they formed) because of Siddhant... But Priya di is raising that child and working under that asshole Ram. Why so much love for our enemies di? (Priya stared down at the table preparing herself for the bitter truth dagger that was about to be hurled at her chest) If Ayesha di was here she would've never done what you are doing. She would have never slapped me in front of Ram, she would've never sided with his family.?
Priya: (speaking in her defense) No Karthik I am always on our family's side. Please listen to the whole story. Give me a chance to explain why I am doing all this and you will understand, I am sure of it. Whatever I am doing is for the well-being of this family... Our family...?
Karthik: (In no mood to listen, he interrupted) If Siddhant's son stays in this house than I will move out. You all have to decide whether you want me or him.?
Priya: (states firmly) Kush is not going anywhere. (She pleads) Karthik try and understand he is Ayesha's son too...?
Karthik: (sneeringly replied) Ma, you were right when you said that an orphan can never take the place of your own. (Shipra glared at Karthik praying that he says nothing further) They will always do something or say something to remind you that they are, after all, a stranger. Priya di I knew you would choose Siddhant's son over me. He's an orphan and so are you...?
What, for 20 years, was an unstated truth buried under the stitches of a wound that was vowed to never be opened now gushed out in all it's distasteful glory. By no means was this a surprise to anyone, including Priya, but it was an unexpected blow that left her lapsed momentarily in paralysis. Being an innocent age of five years she didn't remember much about the night that she lost both her parents. However, emotions are immortal and perhaps that's why she could still faintly recall the excitement she felt that night before the accident. Sudhir, the co-owner of Sharma and Kapoor industries at that time, was returning home from work. Succumbing to the stress of the job he had a few pegs before heading home. Priya and her family were returning from a nearby carnival in their two door car, the only one her father could afford. She recalled the taste of the cotton candy as it's magical feathery fluff texture melted into the pores of her tongue. The sound of the radio rambling a slow, soft tune that probably meant something to her parents since they smiled stealing glances every time the chorus played. It was like one of those dreams that tempted you with promises of a happy ending as a ploy to lure you to the point of no return, at the brinks of the most sinister nightmare. They were just one right turn away from reaching their small one bedroom apartment. One right turn away from beating the nightmare, from living to tell tales of a heavenly time. All the illusions, the tastes, the music, the fun came to a crescendo and than crumbled like the windows of the car as it made a few tumbles along the road. Sirens and screams prevailed as the metallic taste of blood oozed from her lips seeping into her mouth. A fear of the unknown thrived, with no guidance from the best teacher in the world, her mom. Suddenly it all vanished and all that was left was a hazy silence with a subtle ringing in her ears as she held on to the hands of darkness walking further along the path of uncertainty, the only option that she saw. When she woke up she was lying in a hospital bed. She cried to see her mother but they took her to her father instead. He laid in a similar bed with red stained splotches on the cloth that was wrapped around his head. She never forgot what he told her in gasps of painful breaths, "Aaj se, yeh uncle apke papa hain� From now on you will stay with him�" And her reply was heart piercing, holding on to her Papa's hand, she was unaware that it was the last time that she would have the chance to do so; if she had known, she might have held on longer, might have gripped it tighter, perhaps god would've shown some mercy and allowed him to stay longer. "But Papa I don't want to stay with anyone else. I want to be with you and Mama. Papa please�Is it because I was a bad girl, is that why you don't want me anymore� I promise I won't ask for anything�" A helpless father cursed his fate not being able to fully cherish the gift that was selfishly being taken away from him so soon, "No my little princess�" She felt him squeeze her tiny hands in his, pulling her up on the bed with a struggle that he concealed in his teary smile, "You are perfect, my angel�" She leaned forward and he kissed her on her forehead, she felt his lips quiver on contact for the first time. Priya followed her father's gaze to a man in an unkempt black suit standing in the doorway of the room, the same man that was apparently going to play the part of her father. "Mr. Sharma is my boss�He is a very nice man�" his voice became springy, losing strength the more he spoke� "Go to him my angel..." She remained planted on the bed, not wanting to let go. "But Papa, Mumma kahan hain?" Itching her nose with the ends of her sleeves she scanned the room that screamed agony. Her dad had no answer, he averted the question, speaking quickly as if this was a test and he was being timed. "Mumma and I will always be with you in your heart�Now your Papa is Mr. Sharma, ok?"
Glancing back at the man who had by than moved close to the bed where her father lay, she noted a stream of tears racing down his pale cheeks. "I am so sorry Jeet�Please forgive me�" That was the first she heard his voice. The confidence in it severly minimized by a strong contrast of immense insecurity, which gave it a confused, rattling edge. "Sir, if you really want forgiveness than take my daughter from here. I don't want her to have this picture of me in her mind�If you're really sorry for what you've done than prove it. Raise my daughter like your own�Give her all the fatherly love that her innoncence demands. Keep her smiling, make sure she never cries and most importantly, protect her. So that no one, including yourself, can bring her any harm�" The monitor quickened it's pace, beeping as a timer would nearing the end of it's cycle, showing no mercy, just doing it's job. The man whose hands she held on to whenever she was scared, allowed her palms to slide out of his grip in the most fearful moment of her life. She felt as if she would fall, face first off the bed but the man who she would grow to respect as a father held her close in his arms and walked slowly out of the room. "I Love you my princess�" She heard her father whisper turing her head sharply over the man's shoulder to see him breathing hastily, stretched out on the bed.
The echoes of a loud clap bounced off the walls of the flat catapulting Priya back to the present reality. Sudhir's hand trailed off of Karthik's cheeks on it's way back to his side. She couldn't help but feel guilty, knowing that she played a huge part in making a father and a son butt heads the way that they were currently doing.
Shipra: (clearly upset) What have you done? Why did you slap him? (rushing to Karthik's side) Beta, zyaada toh nahi laga na?(Karthik's nose flared staring at his father with a threatening glare) Sudhir, what did he say wrong? He is still young�You know his anger�Once we sit him down and talk to him about Kush, he would've understood. But you and (she gave Priya a dirty look, examing her from top to bottom to point out how out of place she was in this picture)
Priya could never decide whether Shipra loved her or despised her, as the days passed it was getting harder to tell. But one thing was certain, she showered her motherly affection on her when she felt that it was convienient. When she needed something and when her children�Sorry, scratch that�When her 'real' children needed some sort of a sacrifice on her part in order to move forward in pursuit of their dreams. It was easy for Shipra to manipulate her in this manner because Priya craved a family that would be incomplete without her. And so like a puppet on a string she danced to everyone's tune and in return she was rewarded with a false sense of belonging, which was ample for the vulnerable Priya.
Sudhir: (yelling at Shipra) Enough! Shipra�ENOuGH!
Priya: (not wanting to add further to her guilt, which had reached it's maximum capacity for the day) Papa it's okay�
Sudhir: (interrupting) No Priya�Today you won't say anything� Everytime something like this happens, you always tolerate the insult to maintain the peace. But not today� (he roughly grabbed a hold of Karthik's arm) Come with me�Today I will show you the difference between a stranger and your own�
Shipra: (pleading to Sudhir) Sudhir, please we will tell him everything once he calms down�he is still young, what if he reacts in a negative way�
Sudhir: (enraged) For you he is a child�But perhaps you are not able to see that your child has grown up�This perfect little life that he has been given the luxury to live has spoiled him�(he dragged Karthik) Priya tu bhi chaal humare saath�
Priya: (panicking at the sudden turn of events) Papa, but�Kush�
Sudhir: (staring sideways at Shipra) Ayesha's mom is here to watch Ayesha's son� You come with me�
Sudhir took the regular 15 minute route that the Sharma family travelled routinely every Friday night. It was a tradition that no one was too keen to partake in but it offered a subtle peace and reassurance that was golden in the forced moments of their lives. Throughout the ride along the inadequately paved mumbai streets, Priya glanced back at Karthik whose gaze never wavered from the view outside the window. She was well aware of the surrounding scenary, it wasnt at all breathtaking, which goes to prove that Karthik was simply ignoring her. A strange fear of rejection surged through her body as thoughts of losing the beautiful bond that she shared with her brother clogged her exhausted mind. Being thoroughly roped by her thoughts, she failed to realize when the car jerked to a halt outside their destination. "Let's go Priya." her Papa's voice sneaked into her ears smacking her back into action. Analyzing Karthik's perplexed expression as they took the elevator to the 8th floor, Priya could only imagine the long list of questions that he had in his mind and she was prepared to answer each one of them, if only he'd ask. The silence was repulsive in this twisted predicament that warranted some form of communication in order to be addressed. But no one spoke even along the corridors of Hotel Grace to Room 808, the final stop. After a couple knocks, the door clicked as the line of locks were unfastened to unveil the first of many realities to Karthik. This one truth was the recipe to make his blood boil and simmer into a thick broth but there was no way around it.
"Papaji, Priya...Aap yahaan?" The man on the other side of the door rustled his thick black hair checking his watch to ensure that he wasnt mistaken.
Sudhir ignored the question; solely focused on the reason for his unannounced visit he grabbed a hold of Karthik's arm once more and dragged him to bedroom where he settled in shock.
Priya and the other man followed closely behind him, secretly amazed with his speed at this age.
Sudhir: (pointing at the frail, beautiful woman who laid on the bed in front of them in a deep, peaceful sleep) That's your Ayesha di, whose son you have a grudge against. (Karthik looked back at Priya with a smidge of remorse but when his gaze fell on the man next to her, his rage silently returned) These two strangers, (Sudhir pointed in Priya's direction) Priya and Siddhant are the reason that she is even alive today.
Sudhir had made up his mind to tear apart every script of the story and lay it upright in bits and pieces in front of Karthik. But before he began his narration there was a boisterous knock on the door by someone who was making it a point to not give up until he was acknowledged. With an expression of sheer confusion, Karthik, Siddhant, Priya and Sudhir looked at each other in hopes of some clarity.
Siddhant: (his voice raspy-in a state of panic fearing that his cover was blown) Papaji, did mummyji also come with you guys?
Sudhir: (his face became pale) no Sid beta, it's just us�
Priya: (her eyebrows scrunched in wonder) But Papa, who can it be? No one knows about this place but us�
Already shaken up from before, Karthik remained silent with his gaze fixed on Ayesha, who remained hooked to a machine without a line of concern to be seen on her face.
Sudhir: (shaking his head slowly) I don't know beta�
The knocking continued�
Siddhant: (walked to the door, his heart felt like it had permanently lodged in his throat. With a sigh and a quick glance back at Priya and Sudhir who had followed him to the living room, he looked out through the peep hole in the door, proclaiming in defeat) It's Ram...(he paused momentarily and than stated more sympathetically) and Ma�