"Priya!" He hollered her name alerting her of his entry into bedroom. Quickly wiping her moist cheeks dry with the ends of his sleeves, Priya stood up straight, feigning strength while she crumbled silently inside. Their eyes clashed like magnets, inseparable once attached. His rage was not forgotten; it remained within him, slithering like a serpent, stealthy and lethal. However, he was no stranger to her pain reading the light shade of pink in her glistening eyes, which told its story all too clearly. "She had been crying. But why?" He thought to himself only for a moment, knowing it would drive him crazy if he were to ponder for any longer.
"Priya. I can't carry on like this anymore." Cutting to the chase Ram blurted out. “I don’t understand why you don’t want your father to know about us. Don’t you trust me?” He grasped her hands hastily waiting for her to answer but there was no response. She simply stared at the floor, averting her gaze. “Look at me Priya.” He ordered feeling slightly insulted. “Answer my question. Don’t you trust me?” He repeated when she finally gathered up the courage to look him square in his eyes.
“I trust you Ram” This time she answered, pausing briefly before adding the final dreaded remark. “But I can’t leave my family for you. I just can’t.” Ram’s heart sank like an anchor as her harsh words echoed in his ears. It was something he never wanted to hear and something she never wanted to say out loud. But Ram had provoked her. She was perfectly fine carrying on like they had been, at least for a little while longer.
Frustrated, Ram ran his trembling hands through his hair staring at Priya in disbelief, as though he had just seen a ghost. “So easily…” He had only realized how dry his mouth was when he started to speak. “You were able to say that with such ease.”
“No!” His index finger rose with his voice. “Don’t say a word more.” Walking over to his discarded pants, which lay on the cold floor, Ram stepped into it, pulling it up and securing it around his waist. She watched on, disheartened as he made his way back to where she stood blank like a statue. “I’m partly surprised Priya. I didn’t take you to be one of those women who throw their bodies out there with no intention of ever actually staying. Am I your first or…?” He recited the words of his broken heart not truly meaning any of it.
“Just shut up Ram!” She shouted. “I know you’re hurt and I am also but that does not mean you can just say anything that comes to your mind.”
“Are you really hurt?” He pestered carrying on with his overly annoying demeanor. “Damn baby you’re really good at hiding your emotions. I can hardly tell…” His justification for his rude remarks was that she deserved it for abandoning him. He loved her with all his heart and all he got in return was her betrayal.
“Ram please, don’t do this to us. We can still have a good relationship. Don’t say anything in your anger today that you might regret tomorrow.” Although she knew that Ram was speaking out of hurt, his words still managed to eat at her heart. Each syllable weighed her down in her guilt of not telling him why she couldn’t leave her family for him.
“Regret?” He carried on mercilessly with his pain driven verbal slaughter. “ The only thing I regret at this point is that very same relationship that you’re talking about salvaging. It’s suffocating me. And quite frankly I am done with it. Your love was a lie. Everything you ever said was a lie. You’re just like every woman who throws herself at me. Only thing is they all do it for my money. What did you get out of the countless nights that you spent in my arms Priya? Was it just for the pleasure ride?”
“ENOUGH RAM!” She shouted pushing him back and out of her attack zone. He had really managed to cross a boundary. She recalled the earlier days at the start of their fake relationship where he had accused her of the very same characterless claims. Yes, she was keeping him in the dark about why she chose her family over him. But if she was putting their love on the line in doing so, she must have had some compelling reason in support of her decision.
There was silence amongst them as they glared angrily at each other. No words were spoken but so much was said in that one moment. Having heard his accusations Priya did not find it necessary to justify her actions. “Let him believe whatever he wants.” She thought, “If that’s what satisfies his anger then so be it.”
“I’m leaving.” She announced, picking up her clothes, which were scattered on the floor.
“Fine,” He responded bitterly, “Just get lost…” Adding one last punch Ram threw in the towel giving up on their relationship with a stone on his heart. “If she is not willing to try then why the hell should I?” He thought while his heart throbbed in sorrow watching as she made her way to the closet presumably to pack her things.
Priya scrunched her eyelids, slowing starting to regain consciousness.
“Dada-ji she is waking up.” An elated voice announced boisterously shattering through the once silent room. Priya felt the sofa sink near her feet as someone took a seat close to her. Opening her eyes, she was briefly relieved to see the familiar face of her Papa, forgetting what had happened for a quick moment. Glancing at her surroundings she felt the bitterness resurface as memories of not too long ago flooded her distraught mind. “Are you okay beta?” He asked genuinely concerned.
She tried getting up quickly but was unable to find the strength within herself to do so. Forced to take her time, Priya sat up massaging her forehead with the cold tips of her fingers. Ram scanned her from a distance noticing the subtle quiver of her bottom lip. Realizing that she might have been cold, he immediately took off his jacket and tried placing it loosely over her delicate shoulders. His attempt at a kind gesture was denied as she shrugged his hands aside. "No," She declared without so much as a glance in his direction. Priya was staring only at Sudhir with curiosity brimming in her tired eyes.
"Beta," Ram's dadi approached her disheartened grandson from behind placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. Let us all go from here and give Sudhir and Priya some time to talk." Although he was unwilling at first, Ram finally agreed to leave. But before he could, Sudhir spoke up and intervened, "Nahi Aunty-ji no one has to leave. I have kept this secret in my heart for too long. I want everyone to know what I have done." Ram was puzzled by his objection while Priya remained distraught.
"Priya beta," Sudhir began, unraveling his sins at last with a confession. He met her eyes with much difficulty but nonetheless he held her gaze. He knew he owed her that respect and so he delivered the same. "Your father was a great man. He joined the company as a junior accountant and instantly we became friends. Jeet was a humble man. Caring, kind, courageous definitely a gem of a man like no other."
Priya's eyes watered thinking about her father whom she only remembered from pictures. And after the fire in their old house she had lost that connection with him also. If Ram hadn't forced her out of the burning house that day she would still have those memories to cherish. Now all she had to remember her parents by were fragmented pieces of her already sparse memories of them. *Referring to fire in Part 8*
She glared angrily at Ram whose eyes were fixed only on her. "Is she still mad at me? No, no… I’m sure it’s not like that. She is just overwhelmed by all this." Ram assumed, grossly misinterpreting her enraged glare.
Sudhir hesitantly touched Priya's hand, sheltering it in his own. But she pulled back and asked coldly, "What did you do?"
"Beta, it's not what I did but what I didn't do." Squinting her eyes she watched on puzzled, "Kapoor industries was beginning to lose a lot of money. Our investors were all backing out with the exception of Mr. Mithal. He was our only hope and so we approached him for financial assistance in exchange for 25% shares in the company. But Mithal wanted more than that. He wanted 51% ownership of the company, promising that once his money was returned to him he would be happy with 25%. With 51% shares in his favour Mithal would be the one making all the calls. Our hands were tied. It was Amarnath who agreed to the deal. Signing away 51% of the company behind everyone’s back. That 51% belonged to his father. He had tricked his father into resigning from the company. This company was Amarnath’s baby. Maybe that’s why he acted so foolishly to save it.”
Ram gritted his teeth and clenched his fist. This wasn’t the first time he had heard of his father’s deception but the anger was all too real. Over the years his hatred for his father grew to a point where it was impossible for him to simply bury the hatchet. Even before he was sent to boarding school Ram had no attachment to his father. It’s not that he didn’t try to get close to him but each time he did his father would push him away. Dejected, little Ram stopped trying all together hoping his father would notice. But between the lengthy business calls and late night meetings, Amarnath failed to find the time for his three kids.
Sudhir exhaled audibly before carrying on, knowing that he was nearing the climax of his biggest mistake. “Uncle-ji had a huge fight with Amarnath the night he found out that his son had cheated him out of his own company, which he had built from the ground up. But it was too late. Amarnath had already transferred his father’s 51% ownership to Mr. Mithal. It was a done deal and no amount of bickering could change that. Since uncle-ji was evicted from Kapoor Industries, I decided that I would quit too. But uncle ji advised me to stay for the sake of his ungrateful son. Parents have a heart of gold. Even after his son had betrayed him Uncle ji feared for his safety. He knew men like Mr. Mithal and Amarnath, in his youthfulness, had no idea that he had just signed a deal with the devil. Soon the company started making money. It was unbelievable; the profits were doubled since Mr. Mithal became the majority owner. Uncle ji suspected foul play. He approached Amarnath about the very same issue but once again he was insulted. Amarnath had lost his mind in the piles of money. Mr. Mithal was a miracle worker in his eyes, an ideal business partner. When Mr. Mithal heard about uncle’s suspicion, he threatened to leave the company and take all his money with him if Amarnath did not have his father thrown out of the Kapoor Mansion. Driven by greed Amarnath did as he was told. I always wondered whether he ever regretted that day. Each day at the office I looked into his eyes and searched for a hint of guilt but the greed shone so bright it was always too hard to see.”
Dadi-ji sobbed recalling that unfaithful day. Those tears ripped Ram’s heart to pieces each time they flowed down his dadi’s chubby cheeks. There was no solution to it either. He knew because he had tried everything under the sun to extract those bitter memories from her heart. It was then that he realized he had to rip the source of her sorrows from its roots. But in order to do that, he needed Priya. It was imperative for his sanity, this plan had to be successful. But he couldn’t do it without her.
Never in his wildest dreams did Ram ever think that he would fall so hard for Priya. But the day when they suddenly fell in love came unannounced and in full swing. Undoubtedly the greatest feeling ever felt in his once bitter heart was the love that he cherished for Priya. But look at them now. The love had been swept under a rug so effortlessly with a few harsh words and some deep seeded secrets. She had left for the airport without so much as a goodbye while he sat with a stiff drink swirling in a clear stubby glass secured in his grip. Bringing the rim of the glass up to his lips he tilted his head back chugging the liquid heat down to the last drop before pouring himself another. Just as he slammed the bottle down on the bar counter he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Annoyed, he pulled his phone out, slightly squinting his eyes as he glanced at the screen. His heart pounded in his chest, hoping, secretly praying that it was Priya. But there was no such luck. “Bank of India?” He mumbled, “What do they want?” In no mood to entertain Ram declined the call. Placing the phone on the counter he brought the glass up to his lips once more. But before he was able to drench his throat the phone vibrated for the 2nd time. It was the same caller who got the same response. Downing his drink Ram became slightly curious as to what the problem might have been. And when the phone rang for the third time Ram’s concerns were heightened. They usually don't pester people with promotional calls. At least not by simultaneously calling like they were now.
Clearing his throat Ram addressed the caller. “Hello…”
“Hi. This is Saumya calling from Bank of India. I would like to speak to Ms. Priya regarding her application for a loan.” The lady on the other end of line spoke hurriedly getting right to the point.
“Excuse me?” Ram was puzzled by the sound of her name. And loan? Why would she need a loan? Moreover why were they calling him?
“I'm sorry I think I may have the wrong number. Is this 647-123-4567?” The lady questioned hoping she hadn't committed a blunder.
Ram sat up straight in his seat. That number was indeed Priyas. He vaguely remembered dialling that number enough times for it to be inscribed permanently in his mind. After their fight he must have grabbed her phone instead of his own. It was easy to make that mistake because their phones were identical. But it must have been fate for him to receive this call. Perhaps this had something to do with why she couldn’t leave her father. Anything would be an easier pill for him to swallow then to think that she truly didn’t love him like she had alleged in their earlier argument. But realistically what else was she to say. He had practically fed her those words as the most accurate reasoning behind her decision to leave him.
“Yes… Yeah I'm her husband. What were you saying about the loan?” Ram questioned snappily, regaining a hold on reality.
Assuming there was no harm in telling the applicants husband details about a personal loan the bank rep divulged everything that Ram was anxiously awaiting to hear. “Ms. Priya came in with her father a few weeks ago to submit an application for a loan in the amount of 5lakhs. I am just calling to inform Ms. Priya that her application has unfortunately been denied.”
“But why does she need that kind of money?”
“I’m not sure about the details sir but it seems that Ms. Priya’s brother was receiving money from investors to complete a project for them overseas. However, the investors were not pleased with the final results and they are demanding their money back with interest. According to Ms. Priya’s father he has already signed out a loan on their house but they need 5lakhs more to pay the investors back in full. Usually, when we approve a loan we look at assets and of course financial standing of the applicant. There are not enough assets in the applicants name and she does not make enough money for us to be guaranteed that we would get our money back within an early time frame. For that reason the loan application has been denied. Could you please pass my message along to your wife?”
“Yeah, Yeah sure.” He confirmed as he hurriedly ended the call. Suddenly, it became clear why Priya couldn’t leave her father. How could she just up and leave when her family was struggling financially, literally at the brink of bankruptcy? Recalling their earlier argument Ram recalled his intentionally harsh accusations. It made his heart quiver with remorse. But in his defense, he didn’t know the entire truth. In fact, he had no idea. She had kept him in the dark. “Why didn’t she tell me about all this?” That was the burning question. But in order to get an answer, Ram needed to reach Priya before her flight took off. He cursed, glancing up at the clock, which hung witness to his turmoil, on the wall. The flight was scheduled to take off in fifteen minutes. He knew this because he was supposed to be onboard sitting next to Priya in first class. Grabbing his jacket Ram rushed down the stairs to the garage, nearly missing a step as he did. “Please god, delay the flight.” He prayed, scurrying through his pockets in search of his keys.
“You always asked me why I trusted Priya so much for this plan.”
Ram nodded, glancing at Priya who kept her head down and eyes shut, gripping the cushion on either side of her body while bracing herself for the ultimate truth.
“She’s Jeet’s daughter, that’s why I can trust her without an ounce of doubt. You can’t teach integrity it’s innate. If today I’m sitting here in this room with you all, it’s because of Priya’s father. When my own son kicked me out of my mansion and business, it was Jeet who helped me. Sudhir insisted that we live with him in his mansion but Jeet was adamant that we were safer with him in his small home. He was right. Some goons came looking for me around Sudhir’s property within that same week, failing in their search. Jeet and Sudhir continued going to the office as usual to distract any suspicion. They had vowed to expose Mr. Mithal. I told them not too. It was not worth the sacrifice. But both Jeet and Sudhir remained persistent.”
“I should have attended that meeting. Maybe Jeet would still be here.” Priya turned to face the man whom she had placed on a pedestal all these years. This time he averted his gaze, warning her of a tragic conclusion. “A couple months had passed by since Mr. Mithal had taken over the Kapoor Industries. I was on my way to an urgent meeting with a client in the conference room when Jeet came to me with a red file tucked securely under his right arm. He said he had found what we were looking for. To avoid any suspicion I told him to meet me in the underground parking garage in half an hour. I figured I’d finish the meeting as the client was already waiting. I don’t know what I was thinking. Thirty minutes passed by in the blink of an eye. Or was it 40? I keep replaying the same scenario in my mind. Concluding the meeting I rushed to the spot where I told Jeet to wait for me. But when I got downstairs, he was nowhere to be seen. I took out my phone from my pocket and was about to dial Jeet’s number when I received a call from home. I answered. It was the gardener. Shipra had suddenly fallen ill and was being transported to the hospital. Forgetting everything I rushed to her side. She had a severe infection and doctors weren’t certain if she was going to make it. I panicked and I forgot all about Jeet until late in the night when uncle ji called me. Jeet hadn’t returned home from work. His phone had been switched off. We notified the police immediately. And the search began. They found your fathers body discarded near an abandoned road. A bullet hole through his heart, he stood no chance at survival." Sudhir voice choked trying to work up the courage to speak further. "Your mom went into a state of shock when she heard the news. That depression consumed her from within leading her down a deadly path of self-destruction. No matter how much we all tried she had already made up her mind that she wasn't going to live without Jeet in this world. They said she committed suicide but in truth the same man who pulled the trigger on her husband murdered her sanity as well. I was not there for Jeet that day but I promised him that I would always protect his baby girl. I was going to keep you safe and so I had to leave Kapoor Industries so Mr. Mithal would not consider me a threat. Selling my shares and my mansion I pursued the life of a common man working hard for my family. Priya, please forgive me for lying to you all these years. I wanted to tell you the truth so badly but the trauma would have been too much for a child. When Shipra told you that you were adopted I had no choice but to lie. You were only 10 years old at the time. How could I tell you that your parents were…?” Sudhir continued in one breath, frantic as he was hurled in those heart-wrenching moments again. “I made up the story about the accident to protect you from what actually happened. No ten-year-old child would be able to go through that kind of trauma. I’m so sorry Beta.”
Everyone in the room observed with mixed emotions as Sudhir got up and stood in front of Priya begging for forgiveness. “Please, Priya, forgive me beta… I’m so sorry that you had to find out this way. I was only trying to protect you.”
“Trying to protect me?” She interrupted standing toe to toe with Sudhir. Her voice, although broken, echoed off the walls in the not so tiny living room. The thing that couldn’t have gone unnoticed when she looked up however was the uncertainty in her moist eyes. Was she going to forgive him? Or was this the end of the only father-daughter relationship she had ever known?