Everyone in the room watched on with mixed emotions as Sudhir made his way towards Priya, a look of genuine guilt smothered on his face. He stood in front of Priya with his head hung awaiting a judgment from the only judge whose opinion mattered. “Please, Priya, forgive me beta… I’m so sorry that you had to find out this way. I was only trying to protect you.”
Taken aback by all that which had unfolded before her Priya couldn’t help but respond in a merciless tone “Trying to protect me?” Her voice, although broken, echoed off the walls in the not so tiny living room. The thing that couldn’t have gone unnoticed when she looked up however was the uncertainty in her moist eyes. Was she going to forgive him? Or was this the end of the only father-daughter relationship she had ever known?
“All those years, you lied to me. I trusted you. I gave you the place of my father…” Priya took a few steps back appearing unsteady on her feet. Almost instinctively Sudhir moved forward in an attempt to offer support. “Beta,” He uttered in concern.
“No, please don’t…” Priya immediately halted his kind gesture increasing the physical gap between them. “All these years you kept me in the dark. To protect me?” Sudhir’s subtle nod didn’t go unnoticed by Priya. “I’m just so confused right now.” Priya stated, throwing her hands up in the air. “I can’t forgive you for what has happened? However, you know all too well that I can’t be mad at you either.” In a sudden change of heart, Priya took hesitant steps towards Sudhir. With tears in her eyes, glistening, she grabbed hold of his hand. Her touch startled him, as he looked in her eyes the hurt still dominant. “I hate you.” She saw the effects of her words in his expression as a tear slid down his cheek. The real shock for him and everyone in the room was when Priya softly brushed the tear aside with her hand. “I hate you. That’s what you probably think I would say after hearing all this, hain na Papa?” Sudhir looked on in anticipation. Hope cautiously resurfacing in his heart. “But Papa, I don’t hate you. I would hate myself if I hated you for something that you had no control over. I would hate myself if I hated the man who shrugged aside a luxurious lifestyle to ensure that I was safe. You had it all and you threw it all away for me. I watched you struggle to fit in to the middle class life but you did it with a smile on your face, never once making me feel guilt over the decision that you willingly made for my safety.” Sudhir smiled listening to her words with teary eyes. Dadi and Dada-ji had similar reactions. On the other hand Ram appeared angry. He couldn’t believe his ears. How can someone be so forgiving? Although Sudhir didn’t pull the trigger, his inaction and disregard was the root cause for her father’s death. And instead of punishing him, Priya forgave him? It was beyond him to understand her behavior.
“Beta,” Sudhir spoke with newfound hope in his voice. “You have lifted such a big weight off my heart. How can I ever thank you?”
“Papa, please don’t say that. After all that you have done for me…” Priya stated just as she walked into his fatherly embrace.
Suddenly, it became clear why Priya couldn’t leave her father. How could she just up and leave when her family was struggling financially, literally at the brink of bankruptcy? Recalling their earlier argument Ram recalled his intentionally harsh accusations. It made his heart quiver with remorse. But in his defense, he didn’t know the entire truth. In fact, he had no idea. She had kept him in the dark. “Why didn’t she tell me about all this?” That was the burning question. But in order to get an answer, Ram needed to reach Priya before her flight took off. He cursed, glancing up at the clock, which hung witness to his turmoil. The flight was scheduled to take off in fifteen minutes. He knew this because he was supposed to be onboard sitting next to Priya in first class. Grabbing his jacket Ram rushed down the stairs to the garage, nearly missing a step as he did. “Please god, delay the flight.” He prayed, scurrying through his pockets in search of his keys.
After all was said and done everyone sat in the living room chatting in bliss. Everyone except for Ram who had his eyes fixed on Priya waiting for a chance to speak to her. To tell her how he felt about her ridiculous conclusion. To tell her that she betrayed her own father by letting Sudhir off the hook so easily. If it were up to him Ram would have severed all ties with that man.
He was so mad but couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much?
Priya could feel his gaze on her. It was intense. Something that couldn’t be ignored no matter the effort. “I’ll just be back.” She excused herself innocently, knowing he would follow. And that’s exactly what he did a minute after she left the room.
Ram rushed past the automatic sliding doors, tossing his keys to the valet on his way in to the smaller than average airport. Ahead of him in the makeshift line was a blanket of anxious people surrounding the service counter like savages screaming and shouting all at once. It was a sight that certainly peaked his curiosity but given the fact that he was 45 minutes late, Ram didn’t bother to think much of it, until the point he heard a man holler amidst the chaos, “My wife and child were on that flight! What do you mean the plane disappeared? We need answers!!!” He quickly glanced at the flight status screen hovering above him hoping for some clarity. Suddenly, each breath that he took seemed to overlap while his heart pounded anxiously in his chest. Once he realized the full scope of what was presumed to have happened he pushed through the crowd forcing his way to the counter.
“I need to know if my wife was on that plane… Priya… Priya Kapoor… That’s her name!” Ram’s throat was as dry as desert sand but still he managed to grab the attention of one of the ten clerks lined up behind the counter with identical exasperated expressions on their pale faces.
“Yes sir, it appears she had boarded the plane.” A skinny, timid clerk with thick black-rimmed glasses responded after clicking on a few keys on the keyboard in front of him. His tone lacked even the simplest of confidence being the bearer of bad news.
“It appears?” Ram reiterated the clerk’s flimsy statement hoping to disprove it on the basis of inexperience. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do you even know what you’re doing? Check the bloody computer again!” Somewhere in his heart he believed strongly that Priya would not have boarded the plane without him. But given the current situation it was hard to distinguish between a belief and a defense mechanism triggered by his body in an attempt to keep him sane.
Clicking at the keyboard with his thin, long fingers the clerk repeated what he regretted saying the first time around, “Sir, she did get on the plane.”
“Nonsense! I don’t believe it. Where’s the manager? What kind of people do they have working for this airline?” Ram gulped, his throat aching with a burn refusing to accept what was being said to him. Despite being a billionaire, a man with an abundance of wealth, losing Priya was something he couldn’t possibly afford.
The clerk was on the brinks of a meltdown when a man dressed in a scuffled black suit with a grey tie made his way promptly towards them.
“Are you the manager?” Ram questioned loudly pointing to the disgruntled man approaching the counter.
“Yes sir, I am.” The manager spoke in a tired tone.
“My wife couldn’t have boarded this plane. And how does a plane just disappear into thin air? Never mind that.” He shook off his earlier question remaining insistent on his initial statement. “She wouldn’t board without me. This bloody imbecile keeps telling me that she did. I want you to check and tell me that she missed this flight. Her name is Priya Kapoor. P-R-I-Y-A K-A-P-O-O-R.” Ram caressed each letter as it passed his lips while still gripping the edge of the counter.
With another few clicks of the worn keyboard the manager expanded on the clerks earlier statement, “ Sorry sir, the system states that the passenger named Priya Kapoor did check into the flight. According to our records she boarded the plane at the scheduled time. I know it’s not what you want to hear but that’s the unfortunate truth. I wish I could tell you otherwise. However, air support team is still actively searching for the plane. Please be patient Mr. Kapoor. As soon as we hear any word of an update we will keep you posted. I’m sorry there isn’t much I can do for you right now.” Bearing the weight of enraged family members complaints on his shoulders the manager spoke in an assertive tone, knowing there was no easy way to answer any question at this point in time.
“Sorry?” Ram slurred with a vengeance. “Do you have any idea who I am? I'm Ram Kapoor. I swear to god if anything happens to my wife I will make it my mission to shut this airline down. Then you can be sorry.” Slamming his fist down on the counter Ram added the last punch to an already conclusive statement. The manager was no stranger to Ram’s identity. After all, when a VIP books a flight with your airline it doesn’t just happen on the hush. Ram was a man of financial calibre and any threat uttered by him was one to watch closely.
“Mr.Kapoor, please go home. We have your number on file. As soon as we get more information about the flight your wife was on we will surely let you know.” The manager dug deep within himself, finding something to say that was professional at its roots with an undertone of genuine sympathy.
“How could you?” He cornered her near the kitchen, grabbing the opportunity that she gave him. “You must think you’re so grand, forgiving the man, who in essence, killed your father. But I think you’re just a coward. You are so afraid of losing the only family you have that you think it’s okay to let this slide.” His eyes red like blood spewing the venom in his heart. Ram always spoke his feelings no matter how harsh and this time was no different.
“Are you finished?” She questioned nonchalantly, penetrating the rage in his eyes with her indifference. “I don’t need to explain myself to you.” She stated as firmly as possible before walking away.
Grabbing her hand, he halted her escape. “What is it about you that I cant figure out? You never leave an opportunity to irk me. But when it comes to Sudhir you let him off the hook. He is responsible for the death of your parents. Don’t you get that?”
“Maybe you’re right.” She began by jerking her hand out of his hold. “Maybe I’m just a coward, afraid of losing the only family I have. You wouldn’t understand. And I don’t expect you to get it. You are so lucky to have a family that loves you. In the short time I’ve known you, I have seen your family crave for your attention. Yet you eat alone in your room. Stay out late into the night. Your father messed up but you still punish him. I’m sure his guilt is plenty without your constant hatred. You know what, Mr Kapoor. You wouldn’t understand the reasoning behind my decision no matter how well I explain it because you, Mr. Kapoor, are filled with hatred. You don’t know the value of family. For someone who grew up without one, it’s invaluable.” Relentless, that’s what she was in arguments with him. Ram watched as she left him unable to find a suitable comeback even though he remained enraged. He just couldn’t wrap his head around her. It drove Ram crazy that he couldn’t control her. He controls everything and everyone but not her. And although that bugged him, he couldn’t deny his fascination with her relentless nature. It brought him closer to her without his knowledge. There is definitely something about her. And quite frankly he had begun questioning whether it truly was a bad thing, after all.
Raindrops splattered on the hood of his car as he drove back to an empty beach house he once called home. At a distance thunder continued to crackle chasing through a field of dark clouds playing hide and seek with flashes of lightening. But all that Ram could see was her innocent face teasing him while her nectar sweet voice spun in his ears like his favourite tune.
“I love you Ram!”
“Baby, I love you too. Promise you’ll never leave me Priya!”
“Promise!” She confirmed cutely before dropping a delicate kiss on his lips for him to safeguard. The only way I'll ever leave is if you let me go.”
Ram broke down in tears failing to harness the overbearing sense of despair in his heart. The last three hours of his life was spent seated on a cold steel bench in an overcrowded airport praying for the well being of his wife. It was no secret to those close to him; Ram was not a man of faith. In his own words, his success stemmed from hard work and that determination alone was what sculpted his life, not a blessing from above. However, Ram was ready to wager every penny in his possession and any scepticism in his mind regarding the highly popular almighty if that’s what it took to bring Priya back to him. Unfortunately, God was not as forgiving towards him. “Sorry sir,” The manager’s voice sounded muddled, echoing off the vague numbness in his ears. “We just received an update on the plane your wife was on from emergency search crews in the area. There were no survivors from the crash.”
Gasping for air Ram stepped out of his car walking mindlessly up a set of steps paving the pathway to his front door. Visions of his love occupied his heavy heart. He cringed at the reality of her permanent absence from his life, refusing to accept it. Turning the key in the lock mechanically, Ram entered the beach house being swept immediately by a wave of emptiness. But then there was a flicker of hope when he saw a figure approach the corridor. Ram hesitantly walked towards her. His steps slow and unsteady. If this was just a figment of his imagination, he wanted to make it last. He feared getting too close, afraid that if he touched her she would disappear. They stood mere inches apart, eyes fixed, not a care in the world. “Priya?” He uttered in a soft and feeble tone.