Chapter 66: The Beginning of the End
The next week passed just as uneventfully. After the breaking out of three riots, thing had become reasonably calm and Ranveer's initial panic had subsided considerably. Although the markets were steadily getting from bad to worse with every passing day, the losses that Ranveer was suffering was getting more than compensated with the branches he had in other parts of the world. It that made him breathe a little easier, even though he remained worried about the position of the Vari branch.
Progressing now into her ninth week of pregnancy, Ishaani remained perfectly alright in all aspects except for her mood. Even though Ranveer knew the perfect knack to handle all her different kinds of mood swings, he could not deny that she got a little more challenging in that week. Her mood changed several times in a day, from chirpy to silent, from nostalgic to aloof. However, the doctors were happy enough with her vitals and said that the child had a very strong heartbeat.
Ranveer entered the room to find Ishaani sitting on the bed, reading the handwritten copy that Ranveer had just updated and given to her four days back. He leaned against the doorframe and admired the entire effect of the room, and the way it made Ishaani look luminescent. Ishaani had dimmed the lights of the room, so that the mahogany furniture looked black, the white rug around complementing the look beautifully.
But the effect that made the room look heavenly were a cluster of star-studded lights that covered the wall behind their bed, stretching right over to the ceiling, covering it partially. The moonlight streamed in from the window, and Ishaani looked nothing less than an angel in Ranveer's opinion.
"Liking it so far?" Ishaani looked up from the book and smiled, as Ranveer now sat beside her. She spoke in an awestruck tone.
"Loving it. When did you learn to write so well?" Ranveer shrugged his shoulders, speaking modestly.
"I didn't. I just write from my heart." Ishaani put the bookmark back into the book, marking the page she left off at, before turning the attention to Ranveer once again.
"Touché. You know, when I read this, it feels like I'm reading about two different people entirely." Ranveer couldn't help but laugh at the truth in her statement, and Ishaani did the same. Catching his breath in a few minutes, Ranveer spoke in a breathless voice.
"It feels like that now, doesn't it?" Ishaani smiled, her gaze now deep. She spoke now in a dazed voice.
"I completed one year of my job at the library three weeks back. If you would have asked me back then where I saw myself a year later, I would have said drowning in a deeper pit of loneliness and aloofness." Ranveer gave her a sympathetic look, as he pulled her into his arms. Ishaani let the sweetness of his scent overcome her senses, while his voice echoed the same sentiment.
"One year is a lot of time." Ishaani looked up at him, a curious smile on her face.
"It certainly is. We rewrote our story, achieved the goals of our relationship, and saved it from breaking. We faced death, had arguments, took our relationship to the next level, got a dog, became godparents, got a new family and now we have a baby on the way. The cherry on the cake being the fact that we reconciled with our families as well." Ranveer looked overwhelmed for the moment as it took his sometime to register all the events that had happened with them, as Ishaani counted them off her fingers meticulously. Overcoming the pleasant surprise of the variety of things that they'd been through, Ranveer gave her an impressed look.
"Well, to add to the list, we had amazing birthdays, an amazing Christmas, New Year and Valentine's Day. We had an out-of-the-world trip to Vegas and we are engaged to be married again!" Ishaani gave him a glowing smile, now speaking in a reverential tone.
"It sounds so perfect, doesn't it?" Ranveer understood what she truly meant to say, and Ranveer shook his head in amusement.
"Heavens knows it wasn't." Ishaani nodded her head, as she now spoke in a terrified whisper.
"Sometimes, I feel so scared; that it's just all a dream and any moment, I'll wake up and be thrown into that same depressing life." Ranveer gave her a fearful look for a moment that quickly flitted back to a more positive and determined one.
"Well, it's about time we have a normal life." Ishaani nodded her head like an eager child and Ranveer beamed. Ishaani continued.
"As foreign as the feeling feels of being sane and happy, I really like being like this." Ranveer kissed her forehead affectionately, as he admired their rings twinkling in the moonlight streaming into the room.
"I couldn't agree more." Ishaani looked at her palms in prayer, and spoke in a gratified tone.
"Life is certainly good without surprises."
"Without creepy and unexpectedly horrible surprises," corrected Ranveer, and Ishaani shrugged her shoulders in a carefree manner.
"True, the good ones are endearing." Both of them sighed and shut their eyes, feeling the calm, peaceful atmosphere of the room ensnare their senses. Ranveer did not know for how long he had Ishaani in his arms, before he spoke anxiously.
"So, do you really want to go for the fair on Sunday?" Ishaani looked at him, her eyes now wide, while she sighed and admitted truthfully.
"Yes, I do. A year back, I left my career at its peak because for once, I wanted to do something that I actually liked. And I did. And now that I have the chance to make a career in something I love doing, I don't want to miss out on it. Our angel will be consuming all my time once it's out into the world and I don't know whether I'll have such a good opportunity again." Ranveer eyes her keenly, weighing out the options in his head, now speaking in an enquiring tone.
"It really means that much to you?" Ishaani nodded her head and Ranveer smiled. "Then it's decided. We are going."
Three days later, Ishaani stood in front of the mirror, looking at her attire doubtfully. Ranveer, wearing a chocolate-brown shirt and cream trousers, looked up at her from the coffee table, and whistled slowly.
"Don't you look stunning now?!" Ishaani stood before the mirror in a light, collared, apple green dress that flowed freely below her knees. The length of her sleeves ran up to three-fourth of her arm, while the upper part of her dress had rich, golden buttons. Ishaani had tied her hair into a pony tail, while wearing only a pair of emerald earrings that complemented her attire beautifully. She turned herself around to check all the aspects of her dress, conscious of her appearance. She gave Ranveer an unsure look, who was in turn rolling his eyes at her antics.
"I don't know... I mean, the dress doesn't look too… free now, does it? Although I love its apple green shade, but still."
"Honey, you look beautiful. That's that." Ishaani gave him a sweet smile through the reflection of the mirror and Ranveer winked at her. Ishaani blushed crimson and Ranveer smirked mischievously.
"Shall we?" Ishaani put on her straw hat that complemented her dress beautifully. Linking her arm with Ranveer's, the couple descended from the staircase, the bright sun entering the house making them glow as well. Martin and Claudine looked at the couple and smiled, while Timmy looked at them morosely.
"Now don't you look stunning?"
"I told her the same thing." A nudge in the ribs and Ranveer winced painfully. Ishaani bent and picked Timmy in her arms, who barked half-heartedly.
"Relax. We'll be back before you know it. Don't you worry." Ishaani kissed the top of Timmy's head and handed him over to Martin.
"Madame, Monsieur, do have a safe journey. Madame, I will be making your favourite mushroom soup that you are most partial to." Ishaani smiled and Ranveer patted Martin's back.
"Don't worry, I'll remain in touch with the two of you. We should be back before 8." Martin nodded his head and Ishaani hugged him, doing the same with Claudine. Claudine, in turn, kissed both Ishaani and Ranveer on their cheeks and the two of them left the mansion, waving away merrily at the other couple, Timmy now staring at them sadly.
Ranveer and Ishaani made it to Athens within an hour and fifteen minutes, the sun now merrily shining and a pleasant breeze alongside. Getting off at the venue that was a square larger than where they had hosted the Aubergine Book Fair, Ranveer and Ishaani made their way around to their stall, stopping by to meet most of the board members, who couldn't help but admire how radiant Ishaani looked and how the two of them complemented each other well enough.
The fair this time was twice as large as the one back in Vari and was considerably more challenging to keep up with. People came in flocks of thousands and the fair buzzed with animated activity, the book fair having seen a mass crowd, the highest in seven years. People seemed happy and carefree and the thoughts about anything offhand had no chance to creep its way into anyone's mind, electric as the atmosphere was.
Ranveer and Ishaani were both responsible for managing the book stall at the fair, as big as almost a quarter of the library back at Vari. Books changed hands swiftly; knowledge imparting just the same.
Noon passed off in the same manner, the fair at its peak hours now, the buzzing and chatter of people and excited children only energizing the atmosphere. Rides and game stalls were generously visited, sweet and food stalls just the same. Ranveer and Ishaani felt considerably refreshed and rejuvenated, happily enjoying the lazy atmosphere overhead.
Finally shutting their stall at 4 for they had gotten all sold out, Ranveer and Ishaani now became a part of the excited crowd, visiting stalls and eating sticks of candyfloss. The two of them roamed about, hand in hand, as they remembered about their trip to Adventuredome in Vegas.
They smiled goofily at each other as their surrounding was filled with a strange liveliness that infected them, infusing the same spirit in their veins. Ranveer and Ishaani finally decided to call it a day at 4 in the evening after Ishaani declared that she was tired to do any further walking.
Their journey back was pleasant as dusk was on its way, and Ishaani could see the rapidly changing colours of the sky. Ranveer managed to drive them back into Vari via the Highway 52, and Vari looked just as serene, compared to the hustle bustle of the city. The two of them had barely entered the suburb when Ishaani spoke in a hypnotized tone.
"Ranveer, I want to see the sunset by the lake." Ranveer looked beside him to see Ishaani staring about at the window as the sun dazzled gorgeously in the sky, which was now a powerful mix of yellow, orange, red and pink.
"Alright. The dusk looks beautiful and besides, we haven't been to the lake in a very long time." Ishaani smiled at him and Ranveer now drove the car in the direction on the lake. Parking the car at a distance, Ranveer and Ishaani freed themselves of their footwear and now walked barefoot over the dewy grass that felt crisp, while they felt the supple water tickle their feet.
Ranveer and Ishaani reached the banks of the lake where a pair of magnificent swans were stretching their broad wings and paddling their way across the stream gracefully. The two of them smiled as they sat down and observed the swans, before Ranveer spoke lightly.
"Looks like we are not the only couple enjoying the sunset." Ishaani smiled as she laid down on her bank, Ranveer doing the same, while admiring the nature and the sky above them that made for a heavenly combination. They could hear the sweet voices of the birds singing around and the two of them felt tranquil, lost in a meditative trance.
Ishaani and Ranveer saw the sky continuously blending in more shaded of colours, at the sun began its descend towards the horizon, leaving behind an orange glow in the sky, as shades of indigo and navy were making its way alongside. The two of them stared around at the peace that Mother Nature provided them as they cradled in her lap.
The two of them raised themselves from the ground after some time, even though the breathtaking beauty of the past few hours that bowled them of all their senses. They saw the two swans fly away into the skies, along with several of the birds who had finished their last songs for the day. Ranveer and Ishaani stared idly at the water that reflected the colours of the sky and sighed.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Ranveer removed his phone to see an incoming call from his associate, Mr. Rodgers. Ishaani smiled at him sweetly and nodded her head in assent to answer the call. She knew that Ranveer was a little irritated at the interruption of his blissful recreation, and sure enough, when Ranveer got up and walked along some distance for better signal connectivity, she could hear the resentment in his voice, even though he had now crossed her line of vision.
She stared about the place plainly before she realized that she was thirsty. Cursing her luck for not bringing along their water bottle, Ishaani got up and decided to make a quick dash to the car and back, knowing that she would be easily back before Ranveer's conversation on the phone came to an end. She was about to yell out to Ranveer and tell the same, but realized that the call was important, given that his voice had suddenly turned grave. Sighing, she began her walk towards the car.
Ranveer returned back to their spot half an hour later, his face reflecting the worry that bubbled in his heart. The conversation with Mr. Rodgers had been anything but delightful, the main point of conversation being that the Greece markets were shut for a week and that a humongous riot had broken out in the triple districts of Vari-Voula-Vouliagmeni, and that all people were advised to remain indoors until conditions had become more stable.
Mr. Rodger's call was followed by that of Martin's, who had called to inform him about the same, the call getting cut halfway as the battery in Ranveer's phone failed. As he made his walk back to their spot, Ranveer made a mental note to borrow Ishaani's phone and continue the conversation, before he remembered that she hadn't carried her phone either.
Ranveer's heart however skipped a beat when he saw that Ishaani was no longer sitting over there. The last rays of sunlight were now dying into the horizon and the darkness that approached brought about a twisted fear in the pit of his stomach. He had not had a view of Ishaani in that half an hour on his phone and he felt alarmed at her not being there.
He now called out her name aloud several times, but no response came. Feeling a lump of panic now rise in his throat, he quickly made a dash towards the car, praying in his heart that everything was alright, before his feet came to an abrupt halt. Ishaani stood in front of him, staring at him blankly and Ranveer heaved a sigh of relief.
His sigh got constricted, however, as he took in Ishaani's appearance. He felt a brick drop in his stomach, and he filled the gap between the two of them, feeling like he was going to collapse in shock. Ishaani looked worse for wear with her sleeves torn from several places, bruises visible on her arms and legs, her lip bleeding. Ishaani's hair now hung loosely from where it was tied, strands of hair standing out awkwardly, while she missed an earring. Her face looked pale and gaunt, her lips constantly shivering, her face containing dried tear-tracks.
Ranveer barely managed to choke out any words as a stinging tear left his eye. The two of them made eye contact with each other for the minutest of seconds, before Ishaani let out half a breath, her knees buckling, and she collapsed into Ranveer's arms. He had barely managed to break her fall before his hand fell over her back, which felt wet. Making her lie over the grass quickly, he called out her name several times, but in vain.
Freeing away his hand from behind her back quickly, he was about to pat her face when his arm froze midway. Ranveer felt his heart stop as he saw his hand stained red. His eyes bulging frantically, he quickly turned Ishaani over her side, to ensure that she wasn't wounded and that he got the blood from somewhere else.Ranveer could have sworn that his heart had forgotten to beat in that moment when he saw a huge red stain at the back of her dress, a slit cut at the center of it.