Avanti didn’t know how long she sat on the cold hospital floor… how did this happen. It was like Keshav was stuck in the whirlwind of health issues directly or indirectly and by association she was a part of the deal too. She never believed in fates and horoscopes like her mother did. She and her baba would often make fun of her mother whenever she would speak about the stars, constellations and planets and how they affected humans. But today she wanted to believe her mother… She didn’t know much about stars and fortunes but she knew for sure she loved Keshav who was now her star and was too fond of him to be fearful of the darkness surrounding him. She stood up on trembling legs as her anxiety started to pass and taking in deep breaths, she sat next to his sleeping form. Keshav looked pale, a far cry from the energetic man whose eyes spoke volumes and facial expressions mirrored the words in his heart… her eyes filled again.
She sat still for a long time, a lingering backache not withstanding and moved only when the door opened and the nurse stepped in to check Keshav’s vitals. She wiped her fatigued eyes and moved to give way to the lady in white. The nurse noted down the information from the beeping monitors and turned towards her with questioning looks. “Mrs. Goyal…?”
Avanti nodded as a fresh batch of tears crowded in her eyes threatening to flow out any instant. “…How is he…?” her voice was barely a whisper.
“…Mrs. Goyal…don’t worry he is fine… we had to sedate him to give his throat a rest to recover. The gas had inflamed the inner lining of his trachea…i.e his windpipe and he had to rest but he wouldn’t…kept yelling for… Avanti… that’s you I guess…” the nurse smiled and Avanti couldn’t stop her tears from flowing down her cheeks. “…he will wake up in a while…just see that he doesn’t speak…Ok…?” The nurse patted her shoulder and left the room. In about five minutes she returned with a couple of doctors. One was a physician tending to Keshav and the other was a pulmonary specialist. They discussed something in medical jargon among themselves. Later they conveyed exactly the same words to her with the same precautions as the nurse had told her. As she sat beside his bed holding his free hand in hers, she texted Kamya about his hospitalization. She didn’t know if Kamya was out of surgery but whenever she would be out, she would call her back…that she was sure and she was desperate to hear a familiar voice telling her all would be fine. She also texted Nirvi and Naman who were away on a college trip and out of town for a camp, respectively. Their mother wasn’t reachable and Avanti never felt more alone in her life. In fact, her heart went out for Keshav who had no one beside him… “Keshav…” She whispered. “…please wake up… I am so lonely and scared… plee…please… just wake up for once… I am so worried… I am…”
She wiped her tears away and covered their joint palms with her other hand. A while later she paced the small confines of the room and then she heard him when her back was to him. “…Av…Avah…hanti…” She rushed towards his bed.
“…oh, thank goodness… you are awake… finally… Are you taking your revenge for my innocent mistake from the other day…?” She placed her hand on his which he immediately grasped as she saw him struggle to speak. “…Stop please…don’t say a word… your throat needs to heal Keshav…” then feeling the squeeze on her hand she nodded. “…I am right here Keshav… and we are leaving the hospital together… I promise… You have a lot to answer for putting me through this…” She chuckled amidst tears. She saw his face relax as they kept staring at each other with a renewed look in their eyes. Avanti wondered if the circumstances surrounding their marriage and the current event which landed him in the hospital, were responsible for it.
The next two days were spent at home with Avanti taking care of Keshav…refusing to even let him alone for a minute. To Mrs. Sinha’s amusement, she cooked for Keshav based on the diet prescribed by the hospital nutritionist. She was particular about the medication schedule along with the other meds which he took. Though she had queries on that she refused to give in to her curiosity…with only one goal in mind to help him get better. She had even put up her rocking easy chair in his room where she slept for a while till, he fell fast asleep every night, before returning back to her room. He was much better and could speak few sounds in a breathy voice but she could see he was straining as the veins in his neck became prominent with the efforts. She knew it was extremely frustrating for him and moreover the work load at both the companies was mounting up and though he didn’t show, she knew it was eating him up to stay at home. She wished she could help but it was tough… she did handle his phone calls and conveyed some messages while mostly he relied on emails and phone texts. On the third day the vocal inflammation had considerably reduced and his voice could be heard albeit meekly. In spite of her protests Keshav left for work promising her to return home early in the evening and not taxing his voice for more than what was needed…
With a heavy heart Avanti watched with her forehead leaning against the window as his car left the huge gate of the building premise. Just as she was wondering about her next task for the day, she received a text from Rahul.
Meet me today 2PM at Café Mysore in Chembur…it’s close to your place. Come to the other entrance at the back. I will find you… don’t let anyone know…
Avanti’s head was reeling. In the topsy turvy muddle following Keshav’s injury where the investigation was yet to reveal anything conclusive besides the obvious, she had put Rahul and her personal investigation on the back burner. But now she had to pull up her socks… Her gut feeling told her Keshav’s injury was not an accident…it had never happened when her father was around… What if…what if Keshav was in danger…? It would bear down heavily on her conscious. Also, nothing fell into place whenever she thought of joining the dots and that made her uneasy. She had to subtly find out facts in her own way. Oh…Baba… please guide me…right then she remembered what he would tell her whenever she was at crossroads or indecisive. “Avu bala… don’t waste your time waiting for an ideal path… there never is one. Think about the path you have forged by walking so far and not by waiting…there is a lot more than what meets the eye…”
Keshav texted her on reaching Vedshastra which had a new security system in place. Akshat had visited them last evening to updated them on the investigation. He was locked up with Keshav in the study and had given her a gist when she had gone to serve tea. Somehow watching Keshav’s grim expressions and his sullen mood, rest of the evening where he was lost in thought she knew the information was sugar coated for her. What was wrong with the men in her life… first her baba, and now Keshav… all with a stupid sense of protection now making her claustrophobic. Once she sent the packed tiffin for Keshav, she immediately left to meet Rahul. She wondered what he had found out… she was all set to forge a path…by walking ahead.
As she walked the secluded lane after exiting the building premises, the ruthless afternoon heat driving her crazy as she had already bathed in sweat, she suddenly had that sensation of being watched. She stopped in her tracks and turned around but as expected there was no one around. Yet the sensation refused to wane away till she rushed outside towards the main road and towards the auto stand. It was only as they approached Chembur did she heave a sigh of relief. She alighted close to Café Mysore and walked among the crowed weekday lunch hour as she struggled to nudge her way towards the backside. What on earth was Rahul thinking…? She reached the back entry which was reserved for the employees only but almost all of them were busy. Just as she stood wondering about her next move and whether she had to call Rahul, a rough hand pulled her into a by lane holding another hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming. He dragged her protesting form to another lane close by between buildings and it was then he spoke. “…Av…anti… it’s me… shhhh…don’t scream…”
Once he released her, she fell backwards touching the building wall as she saw a haggard Rahul rubbing his face and heavily breathing looking on either side… “What the hell is going on Rahul… I almost got a heart attack there… and what’s with this appearance…?” she looked around them and saw they were in between the old building clusters which were now empty and looked like dungeons with overgrowths and a far cry from their actively buzzing days. The area was all set for redevelopment after the buildings were razed. No wonder, there was not a soul in sight…
“…Avanti… there is a lot to say… but not much time…” He spoke still panting.
“…Rahul…please relax and tell me what is it…?”
“…Avanti… I… I was right… your father’s death wasn’t in…an accident…”
Avanti was stupefied to silence… what on earth… really…? Her throat was tight with controlling her emotion. “…Rahul what are you saying…?”
“…Avanti… I was away all these days following leads…I couldn’t believe Rane kaka was killed in an accident…especially after what was happening in the company…those months leading to his death…”
“…Rahul you aren’t making any sense… what was happening in the company…?” tears had their way now as they flew freely unmindful of their surroundings.
Rahul gave a frightened look around. “…Didn’t Keshav tell you anything…? He was well abreast about the situation…We…we had two major break-ins in the Vedshastra office… Kaka’s office. Fortunately, nothing valuable was taken…the cash box was too left untouched. The gold idols worshipped by kaka too was left behind… just a month before the crash…”
“…Rahul why didn’t you tell me before…? No wonder baba was so upset…”
“…I didn’t know at first… none of the employees knew about it, Avanti… but I found out in my own way…I got a copy of the FIR filed by Keshav…”
“…so eventually, what was missing…? Did they find the robbers…?”
“…No Avanti…since nothing valuable was missing…there were no clues… but I am sure of one thing…everything has to do with Keshav Goyal… the man is responsible for all your troubles Avanti…”
“…What are you saying Rahul…even on the wedding day you were talking nonsense… Keshav is bailing Vedshastra out… he is saving all of us and you say…”
“…Avanti… you are so naïve…totally blinded by your feelings for that man. He is nothing but a wolf in sheep’s clothing…”
“…Rahul…this is going too far… how can you say something like this about my…husband…” The word rolled off her tongue giving her a strange thrill within.
“…Avanti… I found out… there was foul play everywhere. The man has everything to gain. Vedshastra is soon going to come out with a highly classified medicine tentatively christened ved-adbhut by Rane kaka. He called it a miracle medicine and the first batch of the product for human trial was to be done in collaboration with Novo-supremo pharmaceuticals and a hospital giant… Keshav stands to only gain now… with your father out of the way. He… can even sell the successfully tried formula to the highest bidder…”
“…but Rahul…” Avanti was almost choking on her own emotions. “…Keshav said…it shouldn’t fall into wrong hands… they still don’t have the formula… baba had hidden it somewhere…”
“…Rane kaka was a cautious man Avanti… and he trusted Keshav… a wrong decision… he probably had found out sinister planning behind his back… but before he could do something, he was… in the crash…”
“…what about that…? The plane crash…it was an accident …right…?”
“…I just got the proof Avanti…it wasn’t an accident at all…”
“…What…?” Avanti’s legs were to give away any moment and she leaned back against the wall behind her. “…Rahul…what are you saying…?” She wailed.
Rahul held her shoulders. “…Be strong Avanti… I got proof… it wasn’t an accident but a planned murder…” As Avanti sobbed, he continued. “…your baba arranged the charter plane from a company called Feather folks…”
“…ye…yes…I am aware of it…so…what…about it…?” Avanti’s voice was barely a whimper now.
“…Avanti… it belongs to a subsidiary of Novo Supremo group exclusively under the name of…Keshav Goyal….”
Avanti slid down against the wall as an anguished cry rushed out of her soul, piercing the solitude of the secluded lane they stood… it was dark and it was time for her to go home. Rahul who had held her as she had cried helped her up. “…Avanti… you have to be careful. I am joining Vedshastra back tomorrow. I will give an excuse of going to my hometown for a family emergency. But… I will find out more information within… I will keep an eye on Keshav…but…you have to watch your six…if he gets to know you are onto him…he may be dangerous….”
“…No…that’s not possible…Its…its…so difficult to bear all this…Rahul…Keshav is anything but a cold-blooded murderer…. No… I can’t believe that…Do you have proof of his involvement…?” she couldn’t accept it as yet and clung to some kind of a hope.
“…this is proof in itself Avanti… stop being ridiculous… the company is his entity so he had to know, isn’t it…? He has Vedshastra now…all under his control…”
“…Rahul, I have served him the company on a platter…it was my decision… but then I would have lost it anyway…I had thought he was saving us…I still do…” A girl could hope…couldn’t she?
“…Avanti if his intentions were honourable he didn’t have to marry you… he could have stalled the investors but staying invested in Vedshastra and worked with the other executives… you could have just signed the papers as and when needed… but he almost took ownership…now there is no stopping him… but Avanti… you have to be very careful now on…”
Avanti was blank… nothing made sense to her anymore…she had been in love and married a man who apparently had her father’s blood on his hands. NO…NO…NO…she still couldn’t believe it… not until she saw proof. She had put her faith in Keshav all along and her baba always said ‘faith’ was trust without reservations and didn’t need any proof. She trusted Keshav and her gut feeling told her he was not involved. Was it her bias towards him…? would she betray her baba’s memory by her blind faith in Keshav…?
Rahul dropped her back to Deonar, a couple of building premises before hers and before she could alight from the autorickshaw he said, “Avanti one more thing…” She stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around as though in a daze. “…Avanti…just pretend everything is fine OK…? I know it’s tough but Keshav shouldn’t get an inkling that we are suspecting him….and I will text you the pictures of the proof I have unearthed so far…just see them once and delete them from your phone…OK…”
As Rahul rode away, Avanti blinked back fresh tears and walked in autopilot back towards her house… the house where she had thought she could build a home, albeit temporary… with a man whom she thought she loved.
The man who was now touted to be responsible for her baba’s death…