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“Mini, I’m honestly getting worried now. What’s wrong? Why have you been so quiet the entire day?” Sameer asked Snigdha as he came to drop her home later that night.

Snigdha rubbed her palm soothingly on his face. “Sameer, don’t worry. I’m feeling sick, that’s all.”

This didn’t satisfy Sameer’s suspicions though. “Why are you fighting with your mother? Is it something about the wedding?”

Snigdha shook her head.

“Then what’s going on?” Sameer was getting impatient. “Come on, you can tell me.”

Snigdha chewed her lips nervously. “Clothes,” she muttered. “Clothes, yeah. I didn’t like the saris she picked for me.”

Sameer fixed her with a piercing gaze. “You were crying over saris?”

Snigdha’s heart was beating a tattoo in her chest now. “Snigdha!” Sameer took her name as an order. She closed her eyes for an instant and sighed. “I’m getting overtly emotional these days.” This was partly true.

Sameer was surprised. “Oh! Why?”

Snigdha put her arms around Sameer, resting her head on his shoulder. “I have to leave mom and dad in a few days’ time. I’m scared, Sameer. I told you earlier also. I’m really scared.”

Sameer was at a loss for words. “Oh baby, what can I say to this? You’ll get used to it, I’m sure.”

Snigdha replied sadly, “Yeah, but I’ll miss them so much.”

Sameer kissed her forehead. “Don’t be too sad, love. I’ll be there with you.”

Just then Snigdha’s phone rang. She took it out of her purse to see her father calling. Sameer too saw her father’s name on the screen and said jovially, “Time for you to go in. Please, cheer up. I’ll call you once I reach home.”

Snigdha let go of him. “I love you, Sameer. I’m glad to have you.”

Sameer squeezed her hands. “I love you, too, remember that and smile.”

The whole night Snigdha couldn’t sleep. Even when Sameer called, she didn’t prolong the conversation. She was feeling very guilty about the lies she was telling Sameer. She knew she was tangled in a bad mess, and Sameer was going to be the one to suffer the most, if the truth ever came out. But she couldn’t stop thinking about Abir’s suffering either. And, whether Abir suffered or Sameer—she would be the one suffering with them.

The next morning, she entered the dining room to find her father waiting for her, looking radiant. She didn’t want to talk to her father. Her father was the person whom she had worshipped all her life. His words were law for her. She had believed him to be a very noble gentleman. How was she going to accept that it was just an illusion? Her father was cruel. He cheated her. He gave death threats. She knew he was a severe man, but she had no idea of the extent of his severity. Did her mother know about Abir as well, she wondered to herself.

Jatin asked, seeing her stormy expression, “How are you now? Your mother said you were sick yesterday.”

Snigdha snapped back, “Dad, please, I’m not in the mood to talk right now. Just eat.”

Jatin reprimanded her, “Why are you talking like this? Did you fight with Sameer?”

Snigdha got irritated. “Don’t have a go at Sameer now.” She stormed up to her room without eating her breakfast, not stopping even when her mother called.

Srestha followed her to her room, but Snigdha firmly told her to leave her alone. Srestha said disapprovingly before leaving, “Mini, you can’t behave this rudely.”

Snigdha shot back, “Yeah, only you people are allowed to behave inhumanly with others.”

Srestha came to a standstill outside Snigdha’s door and asked sharply, “What do you mean?”

Snigdha pleaded, getting her clothes out of her wardrobe, “Please, leave me alone. I’ve to get to work.”

Srestha strode away without another word, looking utterly confused. Snigdha couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. What did her parents do? How could they do this to Abir? How could Abir hide everything from her? Why did he need to suffer alone for all these years? Just because he loved her? Why did his family suffer because of her father’s overprotective nature? What was she going to do now?

How could she have considered Abir to be disloyal? Guilt was wrecking her whole being. She had never felt more helpless.

Sameer called some time later. She felt a bit better on seeing his name flashing on her mobile screen. But she couldn’t make herself press the receive option. She didn’t want him to know she was crying.

She cancelled the call and texted him instead: I have to get ready for work. Will call you once I reach college.

Sameer instantly replied back: Okay. Just wanted to say good morning.

This message made her feel guiltier. Now she was pushing Sameer away. She remembered the time when Sameer had gotten angry with her. She didn’t want that to happen again. She didn’t want to make him sad on top of everything.

It took her a lot of effort to stop sobbing. She was still teary when she set out for work. Her colleagues noticed her red-rimmed eyes and many of them asked if she was fine. She lied that she had a cold. She cancelled her classes and spent all morning in the staff room, trying to think of things to say to Abir. But nothing seemed adequate.

Sameer called during lunchbreak, but she was distracted while talking to him. Of course, Sameer noticed. “Is everything all right at home?”

“Yeah, fine. Don’t worry.”

“Then why haven’t you called or texted all morning?”

“I’m taking class tests today. I’m kind of busy with that, Sameer. So many question papers, you know.”

Sameer was silent for a while. “Okay. Did Shefali call you?”

“No, why?”

“She’s planning some party and she needs ideas for that. So, something about that. Talk to her.”

“I’ll call her.” Snigdha’s lies were piling up ever higher. She was not in a mood to talk to Shefali. She disconnected soon and then spent the rest of the break feeling guilty about lying to Sameer.

That evening, she wanted to go out with Sameer, but he had already made plans with Abir and he wanted her to join them. Snigdha excused herself on the pretext of work. She didn’t have the guts to see the pain and accusation in Abir’s eyes.

At dinner that night Srestha attempted to feed Snigdha with her own hands. Snigdha got irritated. “Please, mom, you don’t need to do all this.”

Srestha replied dejectedly, “You didn’t have your breakfast. You didn’t take your lunch. You’ll fall sick if you don’t eat all day. You are leaving us in a few weeks. We won’t get to care for you like this again. Don’t get upset with us now, Mini.”

Snigdha was speechless. Her mother was right. She had also been dreading this. But last day’s events had turned everything topsy turvy. Still how could she retaliate when her mother was saying such emotional things?

She didn’t protest further and let her mother feed her like always. Soon Jatin came in and handed her a box of chocolates. He smiled at her indulgently. “Got this for you.”

Snigdha stared at her father’s face for a few moments and burst into tears. This was the man she knew, caring, loving, and good. Now that another facet of her father’s personality had come to the fore, that didn’t mean she could forget the part that she loved and respected. No matter what her father had done, he was still her father—the person who was more important than her life. How could she stay upset with her mom and dad before leaving them forever? She got up and gave her parents a tight hug.

The next day, her parents went out of station on some work and Snigdha invited Sameer over to her place. Though she was relieved to see him away from Abir, Abir seemed to have become omnipresent around them. Snigdha spent all evening curled up in Sameer’s arms, talking and kissing. But no matter what she did, she couldn’t stop remembering that Abir was alone somewhere.

A few days later, Sameer came to pick her up from college. They were going to do some shopping for the wedding. She opened the passenger door excitedly only to see Abir and Shefali sitting inside. She was not counting on this. Shefali sat grinning on the back seat, while Abir looked up at her with an expressionless face from the passenger seat. The hostility in his eyes instantly deflated her. Sameer smiled at her sweetly, but Snigdha found it hard to return his smile. Sameer had not warned her that he was bringing Abir along with them.

Snigdha was about to open the rear door since Abir was sitting in the front, but Shefali protested vehemently, “No boudi, you sit with dada. That’s your place. Abir Da, come and sit with me.”

“No, it’s fine,” Snigdha said hurriedly. The rest of the evening was going to be highly tensed no matter where she sat.

Abir got out of the car nevertheless. While Abir was passing Snigdha, she followed him out of the corner of her eyes and felt him scrutinising her beadily. But she didn’t look up to meet his gaze and swiftly got in beside Sameer.

Sameer enquired, “How was your day?”

Snigdha shrugged nonchalantly. Abir’s presence was making her very uncomfortable. It was a good thing Shefali had come along. She filled the silence with her nonstop chatter. She found out that Shefali had forced Abir to come with them even though Abir had wanted to stay at home. Snigdha sat playing with her platinum ring absentmindedly. Shefali suddenly demanded, “Boudi, show me that love band of yours. I saw the one dada is wearing. Getting your names imprinted on the rings was a brilliant idea. I’m going to take ideas from you once I have a boyfriend.” She looked at Abir quickly as she said this, but Abir sat stony-faced, looking out of the window.

Snigdha cursed Shefali under her breath and handed her ring over. Shefali mumbled, “Wow!” completely spellbound.

For some reason best known to her, Shefali passed the ring to Abir and Snigdha felt her heart jump. She waited with bated breath for Abir to react, but slowly the moment passed and he handed the ring back to Shefali. Shefali then passed it to Sameer, who put it back on Snigdha’s finger at the next signal with enthusiastic applause from Shefali.

Snigdha used to cherish such moments with Sameer, but with Abir witnessing her proximity with him, she was starting to dread it.

When they reached the store, Shefali started telling the sales person what sort of clothes they wanted. Snigdha had lost all interest in the evening. She simply wanted to go home and sleep, so that she wouldn’t have to think of anything bad. But Shefali dragged her along from one counter to the next. After a while Sameer gave up and went to wait outside. Abir tried to follow him, but Shefali held on to his hand, refusing to let him go. Abir had no choice but to tag along with them.

Shefali had good taste and she chose some exquisitely beautiful saris for themselves and their relatives. Snigdha wasn’t even trying to focus on what they were buying and gave her assent to whatever Shefali said. Shefali got stuck while choosing between a purple sari with lots of intricate zardosi work and a green chiffon. Shefali had almost finalised the purple one, when Abir surprised Snigdha by piping up suddenly, “No, Snigdha looks better in green.” Snigdha’s eyes darted towards Abir. Abir also couldn’t take his eyes off her. Shefali’s face fell slightly as her eyes moved between the two of them. Snigdha hastily lowered her eyes. “Yeah, Shefali, Abir is right.”

Snigdha didn’t wait there any longer and moved over to another counter that was selling sherwanis for men. She could feel his gaze on her as she left. There was a light blue sherwani hanging on a mannequin that caught her eyes. When Shefali and Abir came over to her, she was done purchasing that sherwani. Shefali liked it as well. “This will look nice on Sameer Da.”

But this time Snigdha surprised Abir. “This is for Abir. I’m sure he hasn’t brought anything traditional for the wedding.” She didn’t look at Abir while saying this, though she could feel his unwavering gaze on her. She took Shefali’s hand then. “Come, we’ll get something for your brother now. Wait, I’ll call him in.” She took out her phone and dialled Sameer’s number. As they walked away from there, Snigdha threw a quick peek at Abir. He looked slightly stunned.

Snigdha spent a lot of time buying clothes for Sameer, so much so that he got irritated by the end, having to change clothes so many times.

It was almost eight and they had to cancel the plan to watch a movie. Shefali was most disappointed about it. She badgered them to stop at CCD and have coffee. It got awkward again when the waiter came to take their orders. Snigdha and Abir spoke out together at exactly the same moment, “Mocha.” Then they looked at each other and quickly looked away again. Sameer and Shefali stared mutely. Snigdha didn’t dare open her mouth for the rest of the evening. She just sat holding Sameer’s hand under the table. Soon, they were on their way home. There came another moment when Snigdha wanted to strangle Shefali. Sameer was talking about their college friends when all of a sudden Shefali said, “Boudi, you and Abir Da were very good friends in college, isn’t it?

Snigdha nodded. “Hmm.”

“Yeah, it’s still so evident. You know each other so well. You know each other’s habits and choices. And, you are in so much sync even now. I wish I have this sort of a thing with my boyfriend.” Snigdha wanted to sink into the ground. She took a quick peek at Sameer’s expression, but he sat immobile. Later, Sameer dropped Shefali off at one of her friends’ places and Snigdha heaved a sigh of relief to be rid of her.

With Shefali gone, there was silence inside the car. As Sameer was driving, he got a call from office and he ended the call looking worried. Snigdha wanted to know what had happened. “The new equipment in our factory is not working properly. The manager wants me to go and check it out right now.”

Snigdha asked in dismay, “Now? That’s ridiculous!”

Sameer nodded.

Snigdha said, coming to a decision, “Then drop me here. You’ll have to take a detour if you take me home. Your factory is closer from here.”

Sameer looked apologetic. “True. But you’ll have to go back alone.”

Abir offered suddenly, “Don’t worry, Sameer. I’ll go with her.” Snigdha’s heart skipped a beat. She couldn’t imagine what they would say to each other in privacy.

Sameer nodded grimly.

Snigdha said, trying to be calm, “No, it’s okay, I can manage.”

Sameer asked then, “Are you avoiding Abir, Mini?” There was a teasing note in his voice and his eyes were unclouded, but Snigdha felt terrified.

She countered quickly, “No, silly. Why would you say that?”

Sameer caressed her cheek softly once. “Joking.”

Snigdha nodded, trying to smile a bit as Abir looked on.

Sameer dropped them at a taxi stand before heading towards the factory. Snigdha stood gazing longingly in the direction of Sameer’s car.

The loud honking of a cab behind her broke her reverie. She turned around to see Abir sitting inside the cab, waiting for her to get in. She got in the back without another word. All these years she had desperately waited for a chance to talk to Abir. But now when she was finally alone with Abir, she couldn’t utter a single word. What was left to be said between them, after all? Would her concern or apologies help Abir in any way? She didn’t notice Abir staring at her reflection in the wing mirror the whole way.

She got down at the marketplace which was a bit far from her house as she didn’t want her parents to see her with Abir and create a ruckus. She was walking away with a hurried goodbye to Abir when he called her urgently.

She looked back on hearing his cry and saw him waving her mobile at him. She had left her phone back in the cab. She hurried back to take it when her phone started ringing.

Her new phone had run out of charge that morning, so she had brought her old mobile that day. Abir was still clutching the phone when it began to ring and Snigdha saw horrorstruck that Abir was staring at their old picture that was set as the wallpaper. Abir looked up at her, startled. She felt her stomach drop on seeing the blazing intensity on his face.

She quickly snatched the phone back and saw that it was her mother’s call. In order to avoid Abir’s questions, she pressed the receive option and hurried back towards her house, talking to Srestha on the phone, her heart thumping.

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