(10 years ago….continued)
Days following the grand declaration of love were like a never ending fairytale. I was living my dream and ticking off things from my secret wish-list. Rehaan and I spent most of the time together, especially evenings, chatting for hours together. I took part in the tea ceremony, took numerous trips with him to the plantations, posed for clicks and plucked tea leaves too. He had his way with words that completely won over me. I came to trust him, gradually. Slowly and steadily I came to know his tastes, his favorites, and his complete personality. But I also realized, sadly, that he didn’t trust me yet. He still kept secrets from me; I still knew nothing of his past. I was curious about his life, his childhood, his closest friends and family, but he never talked about them. He avoided the subject if I ever raised it. He loved me, I could feel it; he cared deeply for me, he was always there whenever I needed him; but he never let me inside his mind, never revealed anything about his past. And it hurt.
I once shared these thoughts with Jane, upset beyond my limit. She patiently listened to me and said, ’Give it some more time, dear. May be he has a problem with being open. May be he fears you’d judge him or worse. Everything has a reason, don’t just assume things. It’ll be fine.’ Her words comforted me a bit. Myra turned up just then. We had a bit of cat fight days earlier. I thought at first that she was being jealous about me and Rehaan, but she was just hurt that I kept things from her. She was a darling as always. She put her arms around my neck, hugging me from behind, ‘What happened dear? Why are you so sulky and sad?’ Her humorous accent made me laugh. She cheered me up. I was so blessed to have them in my life.
The next day mother had asked me to invite my friends home. She wanted to meet Rehaan, I guess. She loved gossiping with Malhar a lot. This time he suggested we do the cooking and mom should rest to taste our hand-made delicacies. ‘Hello Aunty,’ Rehaan was in his best attire that day, well groomed too, as if dressed to please. He had brought a small planted pot of tiny exotic flowers. ‘Hello, Oh thank you, this is beautiful. You didn’t have to bother so much,’ mom received it with pleasure, and hung the pot by a hook outside from the upper window sill. Rehaan knew the art of impressing people well enough. He had remembered how mom loved gardening. I smiled at him, and his eyes twinkled back. He didn’t miss any chance to win over my dearest ones. ‘Come on now, we shall prepare dinner. Rehaan and Rano, help me in the kitchen. Myra and Jane, you have to arrange the table, the crockery and the lights. Done?’ Malhar took over command. It was funny in a way, but we said in loud chorus, ’Done, sir.’
We planned the dishes together and zeroed in on chicken noodles, vegetable soup and paneer momos. There were just a couple of items we could manage without help. Rehaan took care of the chicken and vegetable broth and the complementary tea flavor of course. I played assistant to Malhar in the kitchen and almost drooled over the yummy dumplings he worked with his hands. It was a piece of art. When we finished preparations and set the table, we found what a beautiful job Jane and Myra had done. They had arranged everything out in the lawn, with lamps, lanterns and candles, and were busy with mom and dad doing their photo shoot. The evening went by in leg pullings, gossips, numerous poses and clicks and delicious food. Quite a memorable night.
Dad asked me that night before retiring to bed, ’Where is Rehaan from? He’s quite a knowledgeable fellow. He knows about diverse subjects.’ And I just smiled in agreement to that, not having an answer. The day was good, but that made me sad again.
The next day Myra called me up early in the morning,’ Rano, can we meet now? I have something important to tell you.’ She sounded urgent and tensed. I said ok, and suggested Tea Town to meet up. She panicked at that, vehemently refused and told to come near the school instead. Something was really wrong. I got up quickly and dressed.
An hour later we met near the school. Myra was alone. Hasn’t she informed others? Was this thing important just for me? Her eyes met mine, and I could sense her fear. What was this all about? ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked slowly. ‘It’s about Rehaan,’ she said. ‘What happened to him?’ I asked worried. ‘Nothing happened. Just, just tell me.. have you ever thought about why he’s never told you a thing about himself?’ Myra’s words confused me.
‘Myra, now what is this all about? Don’t beat about the bush, for god’s sake, and tell me, or else I’ll imagine the worst… ‘
‘Ok, calm down. I went to the railway station this morning to see off my aunt. There was rush, and too many police officers. Some of them were holding posters, I’m sure it was Rehaan’s face in those posters. They are about to paste it everywhere. I don’t know if my speculation is right, but I can’t help thinking he’s a criminal perhaps.’
‘Watch your words, Myra. Do you even realize what you’re saying.’ My mind had already stopped working. I couldn’t register what she was saying.
Malhar and Jane came cycling from the other side, halted suddenly. Malhar talked first. ‘It’s true, Rano. Even in the traffic posts they were pasting his posters. The police have come from some other state perhaps. It’s quite a scene at every corner. They are bound to find him today itself, TeaTown is quite famous.’
My heart hammered nervously. ‘I need to meet him,’ I said finally.
‘NO. Don’t!!’ both exclaimed. ‘You don’t know the real Rehaan. What if he’s actually a convict or worse? We don’t really know anything about him yet.’
‘What are you guys saying? This is Rehaan we are talking about. He’s a good person. We all know him. He just can’t be….’ I was panicking. I just couldn’t believe. I needed to hear the truth from Rehaan himself.
‘What if it’s all a façade? You cannot refute that possibility, right? Just stay away from him for now, can you? We just want you to be safe, Ok,’ Jane tried to reason with me. I just couldn’t think straight. Their words irritated me. Nobody tried to listen to me. My perspective was just not important. I was not blind. I knew Rehaan. He could be anyone, yes, but not what they were speculating. No. Never.
I went home. Malhar accompanied me, I guess to make sure I didn’t sneak out to meet him. I was feeling restless. I needed to know the truth. Dad was walking to and fro on the porch. ‘Do you know that friend of yours….,’ he started as soon as he saw me. ‘Yes, I know. You don’t have to repeat,’ I said irritated. He scowled at my reaction. ‘The neighbors are talking weird things. They say they heard things from the officers. You are not to meet him till this is solved, you get it,’ dad’s tone was serious. ‘But they can’t know anything for sure. These are just rumors,’ I said feeling desperate and helpless.
I retired to my room terribly confused by this sudden turn of events. I found myself repeatedly mumbling, ‘This can’t be true.’ Doubts were beginning to form in my mind. Every incident where Rehaan had refused me information and diverted the topic flashed through my mind. This can’t be happening. I trusted me. I still trust him.
After a few hours mom told me she was going to the neighbors’ and that I should lock the door properly. As if there was a serial killer out there running loose! I found this was my only chance to go. I managed to go up to the street from the back door, took the public transport to Tea&Treats. Of course he wasn’t there! What was I expecting? Just then I heard him talking to someone over the telephone, in the far end room attached to the kitchen, perhaps the locker room. ‘I can’t go back. I just can’t. I feel suffocated there. I don’t belong there. I need to get away as soon as possible, before they can find me. I need your help. I have escaped their reach for so long, I can’t get defeated now. I just won’t go back,’ Rehaan almost barked over the receiver. I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never heard him speak this way to anyone, ever.
And then he saw me. He kept the receiver, and just looked at me, not finding the right words. What could he possibly attempt saying? I was in tears, and I was afraid. I couldn’t muster courage to ask any question- there were way too many. ‘Rano, I…’ he said and took a step towards me but stopped on seeing me move back, away from me. ‘I promise I’m not what you probably think me to be. Please don’t be afraid of me. I’ll explain it to you later. I need to go now. You need to trust me on this,’ he was again his soothing self. How many faces did this person have? And what could he possibly explain about this? He didn’t even wait for my reply and started searching his locker for something. How could I trust him now? I went out of the restaurant. It was crowded now. The police was there. They were enquiring the staff about Rehaan who refused having seen him since morning.
One of them asked me, showing a photo of him. I didn’t know what to do. ‘He is about to escape from the back door now,’ I said. I must have lost my mind. They ran around the building in seconds and I could hear a lot of shouting back there.
Minutes later two of them held Rehaan by the arm and forced him into a van. Anger and wrath was written all over his face. He knew I had led them. When his eyes found me, I could see pure surprise and fury. ‘Why couldn’t you trust me for once?’ he shouted, and I almost shivered. This was not the person I knew.
And that was the unexpected end to my fairy tale.
Suddenly my heart stopped and by breathe was caught in the throat. There, in the middle of the room he stood, staring intently at me, with surprise, relief, anger and longing, his eyes penetrating into mine. My hands shivered. I wanted to vanish into thin air, or get swallowed into the earth before my heart exploded, before I faced his wrath. And within a matter of seconds, in a spur of a moment, when maybe his anger overpowered him, he closed the distance of a room between us with fast heavy steps, pulled me with one hand, closed the door and latched it fast with the other, pushed my back to the closed door, and stood in front of me his eyes filled with anger caging me with his hands on the door. His face was just inches away, and his eyes bore holes into mine. And only a two syllable word escaped my mouth, ’Rehaan’.