The name was beautifully engraved in bold italic letters on the side wall beside large black iron gates. On seeing car coming watchmen at duty opened those gates allowing driver to drive futher into the driveway.
When car stopped, I stepped out of it to stand in front of the huge mansion which was my home once. A whirlwind of emotions hit me hard as all memories of past came crashing down on me making my knees go weak. It became hard to move forward. Every step I was taking slowly towards it felt very hard. In all those past years I badly wanted to come back here. Now it was happening. My heart was racing so fast that it would come out at any moment.
I glanced at the surroundings around me. Everything was as same as when I left, garden side, pool area, lounge, everything. What had changed was the perception of the people living here.
Doors opened and Nikhil appeared. His lips twitched into a smile seeing me. As I took the last step he engulfed me into a bear hug. I too wrapped my arms around him. Tears flowed through our eyes on their own accord. Pain, love, affection, all emotions were coming out. I tightened my grip around him being afraid that he would vanish anytime. If someone would have told me twelve years ago that one day I would be hugging my brother like this then I would have laughed. But now its reality. We were hugging each other as if there was no tomorrow. After few minutes of composing myself, I removed my arms, so did he. He turned and wiped his tears. So much for his macho! I did the same.
"Come. Come inside", his voice cracked a bit.
I stepped inside the house hopefully that they would also greet me same as Nikhil did. Much to my disappointment no one was there except some workers. A maid came to me offering glass of water. I took it happily. I needed it to calm my nerves.
"Where are mom and dad?" Nikhil asked the maid.
"They are in living room with the Kapoors, sir" , she replied.
"Okay, take mam to her room and make sure she is comfortable." He ordered her.
I looked at him strangely. I hadn't met them, yet. Dev uncle was also there. I wanted to meet him too.
"No, I want to meet them first." I told Nikhil who was currently giving instructions to the maid about my likes and dislikes.
"Ahana, you go and freshen up. Till then I will talk to them..... Umm.. I mean I will inform them about your arrival." He said to me but failed to maintain the usual confidence in his voice.
"They still don't want to see me." I said accusingly looking straight into his eyes.
He didn't hold my gaze instead turned around to avoid it. "No, you are taking it wro..", he was cut off by me.
"Don't lie Nikhil", I said firmly.
"Ahana", a soft manly voice came from behind me.
I turned around to see an aged Dev uncle with grown white beard in his 3-piece black suit. Nalini aunty was standing by his side in her yellow coloured embroidery saree. Behind him were the two people who meant to me more than my life. I was rooted in my spot, my gaze fixed on both of them searching any sign of love and affection in their eyes. No! They were still dark and cold as last time.
Dev uncle came to me and gave me a fatherly hug. I smiled at him then turned to Nalini aunty with the same smile but she stopped me by raising her hand. I would be lying if I would say I was not disappointed.
I looked behind her. They were still standing there. I slowly walked to them. My eyes started filling again but I held my tears back.
"Mamma" It came out with so much delicacy that my heart constricted in pain. After so many years I was seeing her, calling her. My all emotions were poured in that single word.
I raised my arms to hug her but she turned away.
"Rani, serve the dinner. Kapoors are waiting for a long" , she ordered the maid.
I looked at papa in hope but he also looked away and went behind mamma who was escorting Nalini aunty to the dining room.
When my legs were going to give up Nikhil supported me. Dev uncle came forward and placed his hand over my head and said, "Its going to be tough, Ahana." I knew what did he mean.
After freshing up I went downstairs to dining room to join everyone for dinner. But they had already eaten except Nikhil. My appetite was lost after knowing that but I had to eat for sake of him. So I joined him.
Before leaving, uncle told me to come to his company tomorrow. No one knew about it. Something was going in his mind to make everything normal again. God knows what. But I believed him. He was the one who trusted me at that time when my own parents refused to.
My sudden outburst that day, taking match box in the room and leaving Arushi alone there made them think that I did it intensionally in order to harm her and she died. They even decided to send me juvenile home . Then my nani stood up for me. She fought for me along with uncle. Uncle wanted to take me with him in his mansion but Nalini aunty didn't want a murdere.. to live with them and harm her children too. She supported mamma. Then nani decided to take me with her. I cried a lot. I wanted to live with my parents. I started throwing tantrums but they didn't stop nani for once. Nani was so furious seeing mamma's behaviour that how a mother could do that with her child.
I went with her in other city at mamu's house. They all, mamu, mami, Tanya and Tarun welcomed me wholeheartedly. But all I wanted was to go back. I stopped talking with everyone and remained all the time in my room. Tarun was younger than me, maybe by 5 years, and always tried to cheer up my mood. Tanya was 3 years younger than me but always acted like protective elder sister. She hated the fact that my parents abandoned me though I knew in my heart that it was not true. My parents could never abandon me. They were just angry. Whenever they would realise that I didn't do anything, they would come themselves to take me to home. Unfortunately, they never came.
I always waited for them to come and take me back but that never happened. They didn't contact me once in all those years. It took me 3 years to accept the reality. I was heading towards depression. Then nani's soothing words lit hope inside me. Dev uncle always called me. He often came to meet me. He was the only one who listened to me. With time he became my true friend.
Besides all facts, I never stopped waiting for my parents. During that time Nikhil and I came more close to each other. I got to know how much he cared for me. He was so supportive.
Recently, mamu got promoted and transferred too. He had to shift to Japan in a few weeks. Now here came the point where would I live then.
Nani wanted me to shift with them. I denied. Moreover, only blood related family members could go with mamu. Mamu discussed the matter with mamma papa. He told me that they asked me to come back and live with them then. I didn't believe him when he told me first. I was crazy. Finally, I would live with my family.
'I would do anything to get their love.'
Nani and Tanya were reluctant to let me go. Tanya was so annoyed with the decision. They thought I would again go in depression if I lived with them. But they didn't know living with them would give me more chances to amend my relationship with them. Moreover, Dev uncle and Nikhil would be there for me too. I assured them.
Someone knocked at the door breaking the chain of my thoughts. I was standing in the balcony watching rain drops falling down to Earth, remembering my life before now. I opened the door. Nikhil was standing at the door holding two mugs of coffee. He came inside and handed me one mug.
"Thank you", I said slowly.
"Hey! Why do you opened balcony's door. Its raining. You will catch virus." Nikhil exclaimed while going to the balcony to close the door.
"Don't worry Nikhil. I will not die." I stated the fact.
"Ahana! Please... It was not your fault"
"I could have protect her, Nikhil. Its true that I didn't do anything which could cause fire but I shouldn't have left her alone that day. It was all my fault. Only mine." I said grimacing.
He placed his mug on side table and came near. He took my face in his hands cupping my cheeks.
"I didn't kill her", I whispered. Tears again made their way through my eyes.
"Ahana look at me. LOOK", he said sternly. "I trust you. You don't have to repeat it again and again. I know mom and dad's cold behaviour hurt you a lot. Their wounds haven't healed yet. That's why they are behaving like this. Trust me, everything will get normal soon. But you have to stay strong like all those years." He spoke in very low and soft voice as if he was handling a 5- years old child. "Promise me you will stay strong and fight till the end." He stretched his hand while looking at me hopefully.
'You can do it Ahana. You can do it.' my subconscious encouraged.
Nevertheless, I placed my hand in his. "Promise".
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