Chapter 45: Caught in the Riptide
The New Year set in along with the chilly weather being at its peak. A strong blizzard had taken over Vari's atmosphere in a violent storm and rendered the city paralyzed for three days. January progressed steadily, strong winds whipping about the barren, snow-laded trees.
Ishaani had been re-instated as the assistant caretaker of the library, along with being introduced to the board members of the library. Ishaani and Martha now put in double efforts to keep the library at its glorious peak, while the library had never seen more buzz than it had in those days.
Claudine had now entered her eighth and final month of pregnancy, her mood now constantly off due to her two months of pre-maternity leave, and Martin did his best to keep her happy, going about his work as usual. But Ranveer and Ishaani did not fail to notice that in those days, Martin had entered into a new shell. He roamed about happily enough during the day with his errands, but there were several times where Ishaani and Ranveer saw Martin lost into another world, looking as though he was conflicted about something.
Martin hadn't come to talk about the rooms that they were given, which both Ranveer and Ishaani were grateful about, but both of them knew that something was off about the whole thing. Martin would whole-heartedly thank them and tell them how much it meant to him and Claudine, but both of them could sense a discomfort. Both of them tried to talk to Claudine about it, but surprisingly enough, she herself remained lost and confused whenever the topic would be out.
The stock markets and depression in the Greek economy was getting deeper, but Ranveer seemed to manage his shares in the market skillfully, steering his empire out of harm's way. Things back home were going smoothly as well, which was more than what Ranveer could hope for. Ishaani and Ranveer had both finally found hard rock and had managed to sail their relationship smoothly, their courtship becoming enjoyable once again.
It was the twenty-second day of January that saw Ranveer pouring over several files, while he jabbered away at the phone quickly. Ishaani entered the room and smiled at the situation of the study room. She walked in and slowly kept the cup of coffee on the table that she had got for Ranveer, while the latter disconnected his phone.
"God, it's maddening today!" Ishaani gave Ranveer a sympathetic look and sighed.
"Whose phone was it now?"
"Maa's." Ishaani felt an unconscious lump rise up her throat and Ranveer sensed her discomfort. Finding her voice back, Ishaani asked slowly.
"How is she?"
"Good. Funnily enough, she asked me about your health and job and well-doing as well." Ishaani gave him a blank look and asked in a bewildered tone.
"Yes." Ishaani smiled gently and Ranveer eased up. "There's something up with her though."
"What do you mean?"
"Baba tells me that these days that Maa has become reasonable. After her whole initial shock and outburst during our Vegas trip, she has toned down now. Baba is confused as to how she has softened up so much. Ofcourse I didn't tell him, but I think I did sense a resignation in her voice, even the day when she blasted off." Ishaani looked bewildered, trying to figure out the sudden change in attitude.
"Resignation because she knows that no matter how much happens, your ultimate happiness lies with me?"
"Yes, but it's something more. It’s as though she has lost the reason of her animosity. Curiously enough, Baba tells me that Baa is facing a similar scenario as well." Ishaani stared at Ranveer agog, her eyes disbelieving.
"You must be joking."
"No, I'm certainly not. From what Baba tells me, the animosity has pretty much died away ever since Parul and Devarsh got married." Ishaani gave Ranveer a frightened look, a strange anxiety taking over her senses momentarily.
"So what does that mean?" Ranveer gave her a deep look before he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.
"Nothing much, really." Ishaani remained silent for a few minutes before she asked softly.
"Where is Martin?" Ranveer gave Ishaani a curious look.
"What do you mean?"
"Where is he?"
"Shouldn't he be around the house somewhere?" Ishaani shook her head.
"No, Claud told me that he left a note this morning, saying that he had a whole-day errand. The two of us thought that you might have sent him out for some business transaction."
"No, I didn't."
"Then where is he?" Ishaani and Ranveer looked at each other puzzled for several moments, before Ranveer spoke hesitantly.
"What did the note exactly say?"
"It only said that he'd be out the whole day on an errand and that he'll be back before dusk falls." Ranveer looked slightly pale now.
"Do you think this has got to do with why he has been acting so strange these days?"
"I guess so." Both of them shared an uneasy look before Ranveer spoke slowly.
"Alright, then let’s do that for now. Although don't tell Claudine about this. We don't want to put her into any unnecessary strain."
Ranveer and Ishaani stared at the door impatiently as the grandfather clock chimed seven in the evening. Claudine sat on the sofa reading a magazine, unaware of why Ranveer and Ishaani looked so stressed. Ranveer did his twelfth round towards the main door and back when Martin entered the house, tired but having a faint glint in his eyes nonetheless.
Claudine smiled at Martin and he smiled back, before she realized that Ranveer and Ishaani were giving him deadpan looks.
"Where have you been?" asked Ishaani in a harried tone, while Martin flinched slightly. Claudine looked confused and turned to stare at Ishaani.
"What do you mean?" Ishaani looked at Claudine guiltily before she replied.
"Martin wasn't out on Ranveer's errand today." Claudine turned to look at Martin again, this time confused.
"Then where did you go, cher?" Martin gave Ishaani and Claudine an uncomfortable look before he mouthed slowly, his voice barely above a shameful whisper.
"Interview." Ishaani and Claudine gasped, the former still confused.
"Interview? What interview?"
"At a company." A pin drop silence accompanied Martin's statement. No one spoke anything for several minutes while Claudine and Ishaani stared at each other in astonishment. Ranveer looked at Martin blankly while the later refused to meet eyes with him. After some time, Ishaani coughed awkwardly, speaking in a stunned tone.
"Martin... that's... that's great!" Ishaani felt a smile break across her features as the shock of Martin's statement abated, replacing it with palpable elation. Claudine looked at Martin in disbelief.
"Cher... is this... is this true?" Martin nodded his head and Claudine felt tears escape her eyes. She walked up to Martin and pulled him in for a hug, while Martin enveloped her whole. Ishaani came to stand beside Ranveer and interlocked her fingers within his own in joy, but she soon realized that he was distracted. Ishaani frowned looking at Ranveer's expression and gently shook his arm.
"Ranveer, what's wrong?" Snapping out from his thought, Ranveer shook his head slowly and looked at Martin embracing a now-sobbing Claudine. The moment the two of them broke up, Ranveer spoke curtly.
"Martin, do you mind coming with me to the study room for a minute?" Martin looked uncertain but agreed nonetheless. Both Claudine and Ishaani caught on to Ranveer's hollow tone and gave each other bewildered looks.
Leading Martin along to the study room, Ranveer shut the door and sat behind the desk, offering Martin the seat opposite. When Martin didn't move, Ranveer spoke slowly.
"Sit." Something in Ranveer's tone frightened Martin and the latter quickly took a seat opposite. Ranveer sighed.
"Sorry that I pulled you out from the hall so unceremoniously."
"It's alright, Monsieur. But I don't understand. Is there something wrong?"
"Yes, but that can wait. First tell me, how did the interview go?"
"It went well, Monsieur. The manager has called me for another interview on Monday. He said that my chances looked good."
"Good. But now I don't understand one thing. Would you care to explain that?" Martin looked uneasy and could sense the cold disappointment in Ranveer's tone.
"What is that, Monsieur?"
"Why didn't you tell us that you were going for the interview?" Martin looked at his shoes and replied.
"I wanted it to be a surprise."
"That's about Claudine and Ishaani. Why didn't you tell me?" Martin gave his shoes a petrified look and Ranveer felt his temper rising. "Martin, atleast look at me when I'm talking to you." Martin raised his cornflower blue eyes and saw a tired look on Ranveer’s face, mingled with curiosity and cold disappointment. Martin sighed and spoke softly.
"I wanted to g-give it a try before telling anyone about it." Ranveer cocked his eyebrow up skeptically and spoke, his voice now holding an undercurrent of sarcasm.
"Just like that?" Martin nodded his head vehemently, breaking his eyes contact with Ranveer and going back to staring at his shoes.
"Yes." Ranveer chuckled half-heartedly.
"Martin, you can lie better than that." Martin now gave Ranveer a guilty look.
"What do you want me to say, Monsieur?" he slowly asked, his voice now desperate.
"The truth." When Martin gave Ranveer a teary-eyed look, the latter sighed. "Martin, you should have atleast told me about this. I think I deserved to know."
"Monsieur, I am sorry. But I was afraid."
"Afraid that I would influence the result of your interview? That if I knew about it, I may use contacts and get you the job because of my influence, not your qualification, talent and skill?" When Martin gasped in shock, Ranveer smiled.
"Monsieur, how did you-"
"Martin, I know you. So please, don't insult my intelligence."
"Monsieur, I meant to tell you about this. But I don't know why, I simply couldn't."
"Martin, I understand your fear. But trust me, I would never do anything like that. And Martin, even if you would have told me, I would have only advised you on it. It’s not like I would have asked them for favours or..."
The rest of his sentence trailed off as Ranveer suddenly saw Martin's pallor go swiftly from pale to grey. Ranveer narrowed his eyes at Martin in confusion, not comprehending what triggered such a reaction from him, before something clicked. Ranveer stared at Martin in stunned disbelief while the latter turned his face away from him in shame.
"Martin, all I knew about that day was that something drastic had happened that made you never want to see the corporate world again, much less a career in it. But I had no idea that-"
"Monsieur, please, I cannot talk about it." Martin gave Ranveer a pleading look, and the latter nodded his head in understanding.
"Alright." Both of them remained silent for nearly half an hour before Martin spoke.
"I intended to leave Paris that day, when I collided into a person. That person happened to be working for a multinational company. I showed him my portfolio and he looked impressed. Said that he was ready to take my interview for a vacant position in the company. Decent salary and good learning experience. He told me that the HR Manager would be taking the final decision after the interview happened. I was ready to give it a try, so he took me along with him."
Ranveer looked at Martin uneasily as he continued.
"I went for the interview. I realized soon that the person I met with was her assistant. He took the interview and he seemed happy with my qualifications. He passed on the report to the manager."
His colour paled considerably and Ranveer didn't interrupt him. Martin continued, not bothering to stop.
"The assistant was pleased with my performance. Said that I could make it with the job easily. He dismissed me temporarily and told me to wait for 15 minutes till he conferred with the HR Manager. I waited. It was the first time when I was genuinely hopeful that things would turn out right. That was till the assistant left the room and signaled me inside. The manager saw me and smiled. Beckoned me to take a seat and roughly saw through my portfolio. She shut it two minutes later and told me that I would certainly get the job if I did her a favour."
Ranveer noticed that Martin now looked slightly green and he understood the rest of the scenario with ease. He felt nauseated and disgusted at the thought of what Martin must have been through and made to stop him from speaking any further, but Martin continued nonetheless.
"I was stupid, naïve. I did not understand what she meant. It’s only when she suddenly walked up to me and kissed me the way she did, did I realize something was drastically wrong. I tried to get out from the room but it was locked."
Martin shut his eyes and Ranveer could see the tears leave his eyes. Ranveer felt a pair of tears escape his own as he remembered as similar incident from his past and what had happened thereafter. Ranveer felt unsure whether to question Martin further or to ask him to stop when Martin sighed and spoke remorsefully.
"I managed to run away from there before she could... before things became too bad, but I was scarred. I barely managed to run out from the building when I collided into someone again - my Roi."
"Yes. I stood there shivering, nail marks all over my arms and neck. I felt tainted but my Roi only laughed at me when he saw what had happened to me. He only shrugged his shoulder and told me that this was what faced me every time I tried to make a name for myself. He offered me to go back home with him and be in his bondage for life, or else to keep roaming the streets of Europe before I was washed away. I ran again."
Ranveer looked aghast and whispered slowly.
"I had no idea." Martin nodded his head and continued.
"I could not eat, sleep or drink for the next two days. I decided that I would never go back to the people where stooping this low was the cost one had to pay, neither did I want to go back to being treated like vermin either. I didn't know whether I was living or dead in those three days. I don't even know why I chose to reach Athens. The next time I was truly aware of what happened was when I saw you in the hospital and when the doctor told me that you had been by my side the entire time. It was when I got a new hope of living, for I saw that you were more conflicted about life than myself. I decided to bury my past and make a move towards the future by taking care of the man who gave me a new life."
Ranveer let out a deep breath while Martin now looked overwhelmed.
"Martin, I'm sorry." Martin shook his head vehemently, letting a few more tears fall.
"Monsieur, please don't apologize. You and Madame have been telling me for my best. But I was too afraid. Afraid after what had happened once." Ranveer nodded his head in understanding, while Martin quickly wiped away his tears. Sitting in silence for several minutes, Ranveer questioned curiously.
"What made you reconsider?" Martin gave the question a thought before replying reluctantly.
"It was after the incident with Ms. Seville. But I think it was after Madame's conversation with me. I've been considering it ever since. But it was what you told me on Christmas Eve that made me give it a try, not for me, but for my children."
Ranveer nodded his head and Martin hid his face within his hands. Before the two of them could say anything further, they heard Ishaani yell out Ranveer's name loudly. Giving each other confused looks, both of them left the study room and saw Ishaani looking at them, her face a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Claudine was kneeling on the floor, her one hand in Ishaani's own and the other over her bump, a contorted look of pain over her face. Ranveer and Martin stared at Claudine in shock before Ishaani spoke swiftly.
"We need to hurry. Claud's going into labour!"