"Are you even listening to yourself right now?" Questioned Raghav. "What has gotten into you?"
Before his elder sister, Roshini could utter another word, Raghav kept ranting about how shameful it would be if his elder sister leaves her in-law's house. "This is the home you stepped foot in after taking seven pheras with the man you love."
"Stop!" Shouted Roshini. "You've said enough!"
Roshini composed herself and took a deep breath. She pressed her temple with her fingers, trying to keep calm and not end up erupting like a volcano.
"Do you even know how it is to live in that house?" she questioned, looking at Raghav straight in the eye. "Have you ever wondered how it is to subconsciously wait for him to come home after a long day of work? Or thought about all the pity stories they talk about behind my back to their relatives?"
"Roshni, I know it's been difficult over the past few years but," muttered Raghav.
"But what? You don't know Raghav. You've just come back from the States. You don't have the foggiest of what's going on in my life. You didn't even come to my husband's funeral," she said in a stern tone.
Raghav buried his head. Deep down, he knew she was right. He felt ashamed of himself, as he could have been more considerate.
"I have to go. I can't do this right now. I came to you for help, not for you to bring me down and make me feel worse about the whole situation."
"I'm going to be moving in the next couple of weeks. And that's final," said Roshini as she picked up her purse and headed towards the front door.
"You can come and stay with me," he said softly.
"I'll text you my new address," Roshini replied and stormed out of the door.
Roshini shuffled the things in her purse, searching for her car keys. Her hands were trembling, and she was hurt the way her younger brother treated her. She somehow managed to unlock the car and sat in the driver's seat and started to howl. 'If only you listened to me Sachin,' she thought to herself as she wiped her tears and started the car engine.
As Roshini was driving home, her mind wandered back to her sweet memories she shared with Sachin. The twosome took seven pheras ten years ago. They fell madly in love and couldn't wait to start a new life together. Both sides of the family willingly accepted their relationship as they gave them their blessings. Roshini carried herself very well as a new daughter-in-law. Her new side of the family loved her, and it was not long before she was pregnant. Even though coming from a well to do family, she never gave up her job even after giving birth to a cute baby boy named Neeraj. Sachin was a loving, supportive husband who adored his wife and son. Being the elder brother in the family, he worked long hours to keep the house running smoothly.
On a cold winter night, Sachin was driving home from work through the dense fog. Roshini had called him several times that day requesting him to come home early as his mother wasn't keeping too well. But he couldn't make it early as he was held up at work again. Sachin stepped on the accelerator after receiving a panic phone call from Roshni saying that Mummy's health has deteriorated and they are rushing her to the hospital.
Unknowingly, Sachin jumped a red light. His car crashed into a truck leaving him soaked in blood and multiple injuries. By the time people could call for help, it was too late, he took his last few breaths thinking of Roshini, Neeraj and his sick mother. His demise came as a shock to the entire family, leaving Roshini shattered and broken. Their seven-year-old boy seemed lost without his father. His mother's health deteriorated even further upon hearing the death of her elder son. Living in a joint family, Roshini continued to stay in the same house as she felt it was her responsibility to take care of the rest of the family. She took leave from work so she could give her full attention to Neeraj and Mummy. Six months later, she gathered her courage and rejoined work.
Roshini was having a hard time keeping things together. Her long hours at the office, running the show at home and of course looking after her little blue-eyed boy kept her on the go. Sadly she missed her better half tremendously. Life wasn't the same without him. She had too many sweet memories that reminded her of him every day.
Some mornings were hard on Roshini. She would break down in tears while getting ready for work. Sachin would stand in front of her in the dressing room to help her with her saree's pleats. He would pull her leg or crack a few jokes, and they would end up bursting into bits of laughter or share a lovey-dovey moment making them feel weak in the knees. Their endless chatty banter used to go on till the wee hours of the mornings on a weekend night. The twosome made it a point to eat dinner together or share at least one meal in a day. Roshini felt lonely and depressed after Sachin's demise. She missed his phone calls, text messages he used to send her to check up on things. In the evenings, she imagined him walking through the front door with a smile on his face after a long day at work. Her eyes lit up every time she would see the love of her life.
As time went on, her in-laws started talking behind her back. They didn't want her to continue working for her to work as money was never a problem. Instead, they expected her to stay at home and look after the house and Neeraj. "Roshini doesn't blend in with the family anymore. She only stays to herself. It's been three years since Sachin has gone, but what can we do?" Said Mummy to her sister over the phone. "But I don't know how to make things better for her."
Roshini was well aware of the sad state of affairs that went on behind her back at home. She felt it was time to move on and leave behind her memories, making it difficult for her to get on with life. She didn't have the strength in her to stand up for herself and make things right with her in-laws.
Roshini didn't get the support she expected from Raghav's side either. Roshini and Raghav were the only two left in her side of the family. She being a strong-headed woman, Roshini found a small apartment and finally decided to discuss it with her mother-in-law.
"Mummy, I don't know till when I can go on like this. There are too many bitter-sweet memories here," said Roshini.
"But we are with you Roshini," said Mummy softly. "Maybe we can talk to someone to help you. Someone you can share your feelings with."
"I feel suffocated Mummy," she explained. "I need to get on with life, if not for me, but at least for Neeraj. I was planning on moving out. Only if it's ok with you."
"Move out?" questioned Mummy. "Where? With whom?"
"Me and Neeraj. I was thinking about finding an apartment," she explained.
"But how will you manage to live alone? You will become an easy target for people. They talk a lot and notice things. It's not easy for a single woman to live by herself in an apartment." Mummy tried to explain.
"The last four years haven't been easy Mummy. It hasn't been for you either. But I need to do this for me. This house isn't the same without Sachin. It never will be," said Roshini. "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but please try to understand my situation."
"Ok! But that doesn't mean you forget about us completely. You better come by and visit. I'm always here for you," said Mummy lovingly.
After taking Mummy's in the loop, Roshini and Neeraj shifted into their new small apartment a few blocks away the following week. She lovingly did up the place to make the bare two-bedroom apartment feel like home.
"Mom, look at me in this picture," said Neeraj looking at the photo frame his mother was hanging on the wall in her bedroom.
"Yes, dear. This picture was clicked during your first holiday when we went to Kashmir. I think you were about one year, four months. We were eating hot pakoras and tea. Surprisingly, you loved the pakoras. After that, you insisted on sitting outside on a bench. That's when we quickly clicked the picture. After a couple of minutes, it started to drizzle, and you weren't pleased to come back inside," Roshini chucked. "You never stayed put."
"I was quite a handful wasn’t I?" Said Neeraj, smiling sheepishly. "I've finished setting up my room."
"Already?" said Roshini. "You're fast. Help me with the rest of the house also."
"I will. I'm going to help you with everything," said Neeraj.
"Oh, dear! What would I ever do without you," said Roshini as she hugged him tightly.
"I'm with you, Mom. Always," he replied.
As time went by, Roshini and Neeraj settled in their new home. Raghav dropped by and visited his sister and nephew now and then. Things were slowly falling into place, and Roshini started to feel herself again. Neeraj's grades went up at school and made his mother proud. Roshini being the loving, encouraging mother, made sure Neeraj had exposure to extracurricular activities. Since he loved swimming, she signed him up for swimming lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Roshini would leave the office early and sit at the pool's wooden bench, watching over her son learning the different strokes.
One warm summer evening Roshini and Neeraj were driving down to the swimming pool centre.
"Come on, Mom, we can't be late," said Neeraj in a hurry.
"What's the rush? We always leave at the same time," she replied.
"My friend is coming, she's going to join me for swimming class today," he explained.
"Which friend?" questioned Roshini.
"Akriti," he replied excitedly. "We sit together in class and get along pretty well. And I told her how good I am at swimming, so she's going to join me today."
"Oh Akriti, You had mentioned her name a couple of times. I'll make sure you reach on time, mister!" Roshini chuckled.
After reaching the waiting area, Roshini met Akriti for the first time. She was a cheerful, beautiful young girl who was quite a chatterbox. Roshini felt her lips inadvertently curl up into a smile after listening to the exciting stories about Neeraj as a classmate and what great friends they were. She was pleased to see Akriti. Deep down, she was grateful that her son had a friend like her.
Roshini made herself comfortable at her usual spot on the wooden bench and buried her nose in her latest novel. Now and then her eyes wandered and saw the two of them have a good time in the pool.
Towards the end of class, Roshini felt someone standing next to her. She saw a tall man wearing a black t-shirt and grey shorts as she looked up.
"Hi!" he said. "Do you mind if I sit here?"
Roshini wondered why this tall, grey-haired man wanted to sit next to her even though most wooden benches were empty. To avoid creating a scene and not sounding rude, she nodded her head, moved her purse and placed it on the other side. 'He seems decent looking, and I don't think he would mean any harm,' she thought to herself.
"Wow! Neeraj swims like a fish," he commented, looking at the pool.
"How do you know Neeraj?" she questioned frowning as she began to worry.
"Oh! Silly me. I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Karan, Akriti's Dad," he said, smiling, bringing his hand forward for a handshake.
"Oh, God!" Roshini started laughing. "I thought you were some creep coming on to me," she chuckled as she shook his hand. "I'm Roshini."
"Yes, I've heard a lot about you from Akriti. Neeraj and Akriti sit together in class, and I believe they talk about everything under the sun."
"Yes, it's surprising we haven't bumped into each other before," said Roshini, feeling a bit sheepish.
Soon enough Neeraj and Akriti finished their swimming lesson and headed to their parents after getting ready.
"Oh, hi, Uncle!" Neeraj said happily.
"Hi, Neeraj! You were right; this is a great place to swim," said Karan.
"See! Now you can bring her every Tuesday and Thursday," he requested.
"Yes. Consider it done," said Karan confidently.
"Mom can we eat hot chocolate on the way back home?" pleaded Neeraj, flaunting his thirty-two teeth.
"Hot chocolate sounds good! Can we join them?" requested Akriti squeezing her Dad's hand.
"Ok! Only if Roshini is ok with it," said Karan.
"Let's go get some hot chocolate," said Roshini, rolling her eyes and grinning.
On the third meeting, Roshini and Karan were seated on the wooden bench talking about their day at work. Out of the blue Karan asked, "So, what does your husband do?"
"He's no more," she replied. "He died in a car accident seven years ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Karan.
As silence summoned upon the two, they both sat and looked at their kids, learning the breaststroke from their swimming coach.
"Roshini," said Karan. "You and I are sailing the same boat."
"What do you mean?" questioned Roshini.
"My wife passed away six years ago," said Karan. "She died of cancer."
Roshini closed her eyes as she could feel his pain. She let out a long sigh. "Sucks doesn't it?"
"I guess we're two peas in a pod," he said.
The next couple of months went by like a breeze. Roshini and Karan ended up meeting twice a week during their kid's swimming lessons. They enjoyed their time together and became good friends until there was a nip in the air. Winter was nearing, and it was too chilly to dip in the pool and splash around. Swimming lessons were put on hold, and so was their quality time together.
Towards the beginning of summer, Roshini and Karan met after a couple of months at the swimming pool centre. He saw her sitting in a white cotton dress with her hair tied in a messy bun. As usual, she buried her nose in a book. Karan walked up to her excitedly without thinking twice he said "Roshini. Hi!" and hugged her. Roshini's big beady kohl eyes lit up. Akriti and Neeraj had a great time together in the pool after a long winter break. The same went for Karan and Roshini who were seated at their usual spot. They had so much to talk about and catch up on as they didn't stay in touch as both felt it might have been a wee bit awkward if they would speak or meet besides their usual meeting point.
After a long wait, Roshini invited Karan and Akriti over for dinner on a Saturday at 7 pm. Roshini. Karan smiled cordially and took his daughter by the hand and headed towards the exit.
Now and then Roshini would drop by and meet her mother-in-law. They would chit chat about this and that. Roshini left the house but never did she leave her mother-in-law's side. Roshini confessed that she had made a new friend and was quite fond of him. Surprisingly her mother-in-law was pleased and said, "You made the right decision by moving out of here. It takes a lot of courage to do such a thing. At times I feel I should have been more supportive. Go live your life, my child. Follow your dreams and listen to your heart. You deserve to be happy."
On Saturday evening, Roshini lovingly prepared a home-cooked dinner. But she didn't do it all by herself, Neeraj was a big help. He was excited to have his friend over for the first time. Around half-past seven, Karan was given a warm welcome along with Akriti. He looked ruggedly handsome. It was the first time Roshini saw him wear something else besides a usual t-shirt and a pair of shorts.
Karan got a bouquet and said, "Thank you for having us over." and handed them to her. "We don't usually go out for dinners."
"Oh, it's nothing. We don't usually have people come over either," she chucked. Roshini took the bouquet and admired it. "Thank you for the flowers. They're beautiful."
Roshini immediately placed the bouquet in a vase and put it on the dining table.
"Come on, Akriti, let me show you my room," said Neeraj excitedly and took her by the hand.
Karan and Roshini enjoyed the rest of their evening and many more evenings they spent together.
It was a new feeling that Karan and Roshini experienced after many years. That feeling of having butterflies in their stomach. The laughter that would fill the room, them pulling each other's leg. Neither of them knew that they would experience the feeling of love or being tenderly touched again.
Without wasting any time, the twosome had a court marriage and Karan and Roshini tied the knot. They supported each other through their highs and lows. Just like two peas in a pod remember.