Rakesh had just reached the office parking when he heard his cell phone ringing. It was Smriti. Instantly, he picked up the call.
“Hi Smriti, how are you?”
“I’m fine. ”
“Hey, what happened? You sound very low. Anything serious?” He got worried at her cold reply.
“Tell me Smriti. What is it?”
“Rakesh, I want to talk to you about something.”
“Yeah, tell me.”
“No. not over the phone.”
“Shall I come to your home?”
“No. No. Not at home. Can we meet somewhere outside tomorrow morning?”
“Why? Is there a problem?”
“Actually, I’ve very important meeting scheduled tomorrow morning. Wait let me check with my boss, if it can be rescheduled to sometime later.”
“No. No. It’s alright. Please don’t miss your meeting.”
“The meeting will be over by lunch. So we can meet at around 1 pm.”
“Ok. I’ll wait for you at CCD.”
“Sure. I hope…”
Before Rakesh could complete the sentence, she disconnected the call. Rakesh was left puzzled. He knew Smriti was going through a very tough time. It still seemed like a bad dream for everyone. Raj’s death in a road accident had left not only her but both the families devastated. Even Rakesh didn’t believe, when his college friend informed him about this tragic incident last Sunday.
Raj and Smriti, voted as the best couple of the college, were simply made for each other. Rakesh, still remembered the day, when Raj had came running all the way to his room to inform that Smriti had accepted his proposal. At first, he had felt as if hit by earthquake. He himself had been fantasizing about Smriti, since the day he and Raj had seen her for the first time. But he could never gather the guts to express his feelings to her. Raj was his best friend and now that Smriti had also given her consent, he had no other option to bury his feelings in his heart and bask in the ecstasy of his friend. Over a period, Smriti also realized that he was a gem of a person and soon he was the best man for both Raj and Smriti.
Initially, both the families were against it. But finally they gave in. Both Raj and Smriti had been on cloud 9. They were slated to tie the nuptial knot next week. Everyone was so happy for their union. But the sudden demise of his best pal, left everyone shattered, especially Smriti. She was totally devastated that day. He saw the pain in her eyes. But he was helpless. All he could offer at that moment was a promise that, he would always be there to help her, anytime, anyway & anywhere. Completely engulfed by remorse, he reached his home. He spent the whole night wondering about Smriti’s call. He could tell by her tone, something was serious.
Next day, he couldn’t concentrate in the meeting. His eyes were fixed at the clock. He rushed to CCD just as the meeting got over. He couldn’t believe his eyes, when he spotted her standing at the entrance to CCD waiting for him. Her grief had clearly come out on her face, dark circles had come around her eyes and that heart winning smile was gone forever. They both went inside the café and then she sat at a table placed in the secluded corner away from the counter.
“How are you?” Rakesh asked. She gave a nod and started looking out from the window.
“What is it Smriti? I hope everything is fine at home?” She kept looking at the window.
“Look at me Smriti. Tell me.” He was getting anxious.
“Rakesh…..Rakesh…” He could saw tears in her eyes as she turned to face him. It was so hard for Rakesh, to see tears in her eyes.
“Please tell me dear. What is it? ”
“I…..I don’t know how to say this….” She started sobbing.
“You can share anything with me. Just let it out, otherwise you’ll not be able to carry the burden all alone.”
“That’s what I thought….but promise me you won’t tell anyone…”
“We are best friends, Smriti. Trust me, I won’t tell anyone. Promise.”
“I don’t know what you’ll think about me after this. But there is no one to whom I could share all this.” She was still reluctant. Something told Rakesh, that what he was going to hear next would be catastrophic.
“Just don’t think about all this. Tell me everything.”
“Just a week before Raj’s death, we had gone on a trip to shimla…….”
“We had planned to stay at one of his friend’s place, but his friend ditched at the last moment. So we had to stay in a hotel.”
“That night we were so drunk that we got carried away and…..” she again looked at the window.
“I’m pregnant………..” Tears rolled out from her eyes and she tried to hide it with her handkerchief.
“What??” he shouted out of bewilderment.
“Are you sure?? I mean did you check with a doctor?”
There was dead silence at the table. She kept staring at the window and he as if paralysed sat absolutely still. He cursed the God for being so harsh on the girl, whom he loved so much.
“Have you told this to your parents?”
“No. They would kill me.”
“But we can’t hide it for long.” He knew there was only solution to this problem, abortion. But he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, by making it so obvious.
“I don’t know. But…” Smriti again hesitated. There was something going in her mind, but she was not sure.
“But what Smriti?”
“I don’t know…..but I don’t want abortion.”
“What? Are you insane? “
“I knew everyone will think that I’m mad. But I thought at least you would understand me. This is the only thing I’ve left of Raj. God took him away from me. But I’ll not give this gift away to god. This is symbol of our love.”
Rakesh sat speechless. He saw a passion in her eyes for her unborn child. He couldn’t help but admire the pure heart of his friend. He had heard of so many love stories, but this was something much beyond imagination. For the first time in his life, he was so engulfed with emotions that tears came out from his eyes.
“I don’t know what to do at this moment. I need your help; you are the only one whom I can trust.”
He pondered, but there didn’t seemed any other way, except one. The very notion of marrying her left him shivering. He wondered if she was going to ask him the same. He got perplexed as he didn’t knew, how to react, if she pops up the question.
“Tell me what do you want?”
“I don’t know how we can do it. But please help me save this child.”
Again it felt as if he was hit by lightning bolt. He cursed himself for being so naïve. Marriage was out of question for her. Her love was so strong for Raj, that she wanted to keep this last gift safe and secure with her. Seeking a replacement for Raj was not a proposition here.
“I understand Smriti. And trust me, I really appreciate you feeling. Give me some time to think over it. You go home and just relax. We will find some way, for sure.”
They both left the café and headed in their respective directions. Both lost in their own thoughts. But just as Rakesh, turned on the ignition of his car, a thought clicked his mind. Instantly, he called Smriti and told her to meet him again tomorrow evening.
Next day, he picked her up from the same spot and started driving towards Raj’s home. He knew Raj’s family very well. Raj was the only son to his parents, his elder sister had settled in US after marriage. Raj was the only one to take care of his old parents, especially his mother, who was suffering from cancer. They were devastated by his sudden death and almost lost all their hopes and purpose for living.
Though, they were quite conservative and orthodox in their approach, but just like Smriti, this child could bring some motivation for them as well. Smriti was reluctant to approach Raj’s parents. But Rakesh somehow convinced her on the way to at least meet them. His hopes went shattering, when instead of accepting the child as their bloodline, put Smriti’s sanctity into question. They even blamed Smriti for their son’s death. Smriti pleaded in front of them, but they didn’t even give an ear to her request. They were more worried about the society, rather than preserving their bloodline. Rakesh couldn’t tolerate this humiliation and they left the place.
For next two days, he kept searching for another way out. He had lost all interest in his work, skipped meetings, avoided visits to client, but nothing came up. The more he thought of it, the more helpless he felt. Sometimes, he even wondered why he was doing this. He had nothing to do with it. It was her fate. But then the answer which his heart gave him every time made him start his search once again. He couldn’t deny the fact, that he had loved her once. Irrespective of the fact, that nobody was aware of it, but he knew it. He still loved her, though the definition of love had changed. Just as he reached his home, he again heard his cell phone ringing. It was Smriti.
“How are you?”
There was an unusual pause as none of them knew a way to take the conversation forward.
“I’m sorry Smriti. I’m trying my best, but my mind has almost given up. I don’t know ….”
“That’s alright Rakesh. I know it’s tough for you as well. “She interrupted.
“But trust me, I’ll soon find out something.”
“No. You need not worry. I’ve decided something and that’s why I called you today.” She replied in a confident tone.
“Is it? Tell me.”
“I’ve decided that no matter what happens I’m going to give birth to this child. My parents will never allow that, instead they would kill me. They are no different than Raj’s parents.”
“So, I’ve decided that I’ll not tell them.”
“What? But then how will you….you know what I mean?”
“Yes, I’ve figured it out roughly. First I need a place to live. I’ll tell my parents that my company is sending me to US on a crucial project for two years. I’ll give birth to this child and later if they’d be ready to accept it, I’ll return.“
“What? This is insane.”
“I know it sounds crazy. But there is no other way out.”
“But where will you live and how will you manage it all alone?”
“That’s where I need your help. Please find someplace where I can live peacefully, away from the eyes of people. Rest I’ll manage.”
“Place is fine. But you’ll need more than that. How you manage in later months?”
“That will be managed somehow. First important thing is to get out of here, before they get suspicious.”
“Ok. I’ll look for a place.”
Overwhelmed, with the confidence she had shown for this child, he was also determined to help her out. He searched various localities, but couldn’t find a single place, where she could live peacefully. Finally, exhausted of searching places, he offered her to share his flat. This way, he would also be able to help her out in her daily activities. Initially, she was reluctant to accept his offer. She was more worried about Rakesh, as she didn’t want to besmirch his stand in the society. But Rakesh, managed to convince her.
Next week she moved to his house. As a sign of faith, Rakesh had already made arrangements in his flat to provide her complete privacy. He offered her, his bedroom, but she went for the couch in the drawing room. She quit her job to avoid unnecessary suspicion. Rakesh made sure that all the things were available to her and she didn’t need to get out of flat. She stayed back at the flat and took care of household activities. He used to leave early for office, but she made sure that they took dinner together. Gradually, an unnamed bond had developed between the three, Rakesh, Smriti and the unborn child. Everything was going perfect, just like a dream. But destiny has its own twists and turns.
One day, Rakesh received a message from the reception desk of his office. He had not planned any meetings for the day so was surprised to learn about the strange visitor. He was left dumbfounded when he saw Smriti’s father waiting in the lounge. Somehow he had learned that Smriti was in the city and he asked Rakesh to take him to her house. Sweat rolled out on his face and his heart beats increased. At first, his father couldn’t believe the sight of his daughter carrying a child in her belly. Tears came out from his eyes. Rakesh thought that maybe he was crying out of love for his daughter. But soon he was proved wrong. He cried because his own daughter had brought disgrace for his family. He was furious and his rage reflected in his words.
“What do you think you are doing?” he asked Smriti.
“Uncle, please calm down.” Rakesh stepped in as Smriti stood speechless.
“You just shut your mouth. You must have spoiled her brain; my daughter can’t do this on her own.”
“Stop, dad. Don’t blame him. He is just helping me out.”
“Helping out….for what? Bring sheer embarrassment to our name?”
“I knew dad. You won’t understand, that is why I had to take such a step. It was my idea. I wanted this baby to live.”
“Are you insane? Don’t you realize what have you done to yourself and to your family?”
“Uncle, please listen to her at least.”
“What is there to listen? You kids think, life is a kinda joke or what? Who will marry a girl who is living with his friend and carrying a gift from her boyfriend in her belly? Have you ever thought about that? “
“I’ll don’t want to marry anyone now.”
“What about your sister? Who will marry her when people will learn about her sister? You don’t know how harsh society is; everyone from the family has to pay a price. You haven’t considered it right?”
Rakesh knew her dad was correct. This had never occurred to him. They should have given it a thought at least, before taking such a decision.
“Things have changed uncle. I’m sure we will find someone who will accept the situation of Smriti.”
“Stop giving that “generation gap” sh*t to me. Who will accept it and why should he? You tell me, will you marry her?”
Rakesh was stunned at this abrupt question. He had never even fathomed of such a situation. Though he had loved her once and even now he wanted to help her out, but marrying her had never come into picture. He stood still, with his lips sealed.
“And did you thought about the child’s future? Who will give the child a father’s name? Right from admission in schools, to everything in life you need a father’s name. You might survive without marrying, but how will the child survive without a father? What will he/she say when friends, teachers, bosses will ask about their father? Are you sure he/she will be able to survive with that stigma? You might be brave enough to give birth to this child, but are you sure that the child would also be equally brave? “
Both Smriti and Rakesh stood speechless at that moment. It felt as if suddenly someone pulled the rags off their feet. They had never taken this into consideration. Smriti’s dad was fuming with anger, but his worries were real.
“Leave everything aside. Who will give the fatherly love and care to this child? Who will ensure that the child gets good environment to grow as a responsible individual and not turn into street dog?”
“I will….I will give my name to the child.” Rakesh couldn’t tolerate it anymore and shouted at the top of his voice.
“What?” Smriti shouted out of bewilderment, looking straight into his eyes.
“Think about it twice son. This is not a joke.”
“I’ve thought about everything and I stand firm on my decision.”
“Rakesh, Look you don’t need to do this. You don’t need to spoil your life for me.” She reached closer to him, held his hand and pleaded.
“Don’t worry. I’m not spoiling my life. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing. “
“Because….I love you…..I’ve loved you since college days, but never told you. I can’t see you like this. It really hurts me, when I see you facing this entire trauma, for no fault of yours.” He couldn’t hold himself for long and started crying.
There was dead silence in the room. Smriti couldn’t believe it. She kept looking at him, admiring his feelings for her. Her dad looked at him, appreciating him for saving the future of her daughter. He stood still with his eyes closed, as if talking to his own heart.
Next week, they both got their union registered at the court. Both of them were clueless about how to take this relationship. They moved out and as they reached the car. He went forward and opened the door for her.
“Most love stories end this way, maybe you are the lucky one to start from here.” She leaned forward and kissed him on his cheek.
Ecstatic to see her acceptance, he drove the car as they embarked on the new journey of life.