Strangers!! (kkb) – Part 19

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It was well past midnight before he left the bar. He staggered to his car and tried inserting the key to the door. As his vision was blurred he could not locate the key hole. Just then Purab who happened to be in the vicinity noticed him. Rushing to the side of his swaggering friend, he asked him what he was doing so late in the night. Abhi turned to him in surprise and asked him the same question, rolling over the words.

“Roshini has been having colic pains since this evening. I came to get the medicine from the 24-hour pharmacy here. But what are you doing here, drunk in this manner?”
“Pragya….Pragya…”, he kept repeating.
“So you had a fight with Prachi? Welcome to the club of warring couples. However big your fight is, it still does not give you an excuse to contaminate your body with liquor,” reprimanded a teetotaler Purab.”Come, I’ll drop you home after handing these medicines to Bulbul. Can’t risk you driving at this state.”

He took him to the other side of the car and opening the door, he pushed him down on to the seat. Leaving behind his own bike, he got into the driver’s seat of the BMW and drove first to his own house. Handing the medicines to his wife and promising to return after dropping off Abhi, he returned to the car and drove to Mehra Mansion.

By the time they reached their destination it was close to one o’clock. Pragya was shocked to open the door to an obviously drunk Abhi who was supported by Purab. Purab’s keen eyes noticed her puffy blood shot ones. These two seemed to have had some serious fight, he thought to himself and hoped that whatever it was they resolve it soon. He could not bear to see his best friend and his wife suffer this way. He took Abhi to his room and stretched him on the bed before taking leave of Pragya. Abhi fell asleep almost immediately.

After he left, Pragya removed Abhi’s shoes and loosened his shirt. She kept staring at his haggard sleeping face for a long time. She felt that her heart was being squeezed. After he had left she realized that what she said about Isha’s paternity must have killed him. She never once doubted his love for her daughter. But she knew that his life would be more complicated if he were to continue shouldering the responsibility of fathering her child. She did not know Ayesha at all but it would be difficult for any woman to accept this peculiar situation. She will not deny him the right to visit her daughter and spend as much time with her. But she will not burden him with her problems – she had no right to. The severance from his family will come at a very heavy price which all of them would have to pay, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Throughout the night Abhi kept muttering in his sleep, repeatedly apologizing to her for forcing her into this marriage. Pragya did not know how to comfort him. With tears streaming down her eyes, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly, not wanting to let go of him.

The next morning she was woken up by a call. Hurriedly she got up and answered it. When she heard his voice she nearly dropped the cell in shock.
“Pragya, please…please don’t hang up on me. Please meet me. I have a lot of things to tell you. Please Pragya, please don’t say no,” he begged her.
She did not know how to react to it. After a long pause she agreed to meet him. She took down the address of the hotel on a piece of paper lying on the side table and promised to meet him at 9.30 a.m.

She quickly finished her morning routine and got ready. Abhi was still asleep although Isha had woken up. She fed and bathed her daughter and took her down. Baba and Bua were having their breakfast and asked her to join in. She excused herself and said that she had to meet an old friend from London who was in the city that day and assured them that she will be back in an hour. She tried to leave behind Isha with Bua but her daughter wailed loudly and wanted to go with her. She thought for a minute and decided to take her along. She took a cab and headed towards the hotel where Neev was awaiting her. She did not know what to expect but strangely she did not care, for she had already made up her mind.

Pragya reached Hotel Le Meridian well on time. As she got off the cab after paying the fare she was surprised to see Bulbul with the kids going towards the hotel. Seeing Isha and her they came hurrying towards them. Rithwick and Roshan circled Pragya and pulled at different parts of Isha’s little body in excitement. Isha herself was more interested in Roshni who was in Bulbul’s arms. The two girls reached out from their mamas’ arms and caressed each other’s chubby cheeks in admiration. Pragya noticed a young teenage girl by Bulbul’s side.

“This is my niece, Purvi,” introduced Bulbul. “She is doing her first year B.Sc zoology in Nagpur. She’s here on vacation.”
“So how come you are here?” asked Pragya, a little puzzled.
Bulbul was surprised to hear this question.
“For the same reason that you are here, to attend Sharmi’s daughter’s first birthday party.”

It is only then Pragya remembered that Sharmi, Bulbul’s best friend had invited her as well to the party when she had gone to Bulbul’s house the previous weekend. Somehow in all the emotional turmoil she was going through since yesterday, she had forgotten about the party. Pragya hit her forehead and apologized to Bulbul, saying that she had completely forgotten about the party.

“Then what are you here for?” asked Bulbul curiously.
After hesitating for a couple of seconds she said, “One of my friends from London is here on a short visit. I came here to meet him.”
“Oh…Where is Abhi? Your friend must also be his friend, wouldn’t he?” asked Bulbul perceptively.

Pragya felt that Bulbul had caught her in the act of lying. Quickly composing her thoughts she said, “No. Abhi does not know him well enough. Since he was my class mate in college, he was much junior to him.”

Bulbul was not convinced by Pragya’s story. She wondered whether Purab finding Abhi drunk the previous night had anything to do with Pragya meeting this ‘friend’ of hers. Anyway she was not one to pry into her friend’s life unless she was willing to share things with her. Clearly Pragya did not want to discuss this issue further. So she let things be for now. Although she had seen very little of Pragya, she knew her well enough to be sure that she will not betray her husband.
Seeing that their daughters were getting along famously, she suggested that she take Isha to the party.
“She will have more fun with the kids there than be forced to listen to her mother go yack, yack yack with her old friend,” she said light heartedly.
“But how will you manage so many kids?” asked Pragya sceptically.
“Don’t worry. Purvi here will take care of Roshni and I’ll look after Isha. Isha darling, you do like your Bulbul aunty, don’t you?” she asked and handing Roshni to Purvi she stretched her arms to Isha who gladly leaped into them.

Pragya was relieved that she did not have to take Isha in for she was not too comfortable letting Neev see her. She thanked Bulbul and promised not to be too long with her meeting. She then realized she had not bought any gift for Sharmi’s kid. She asked Bulbul to wait in the lobby area and went to the gift shop inside the hotel to quickly pick up a large teddy bear. Handing it to Rithwick, she asked him to give it to the birthday baby on behalf of his little friend Isha. Rithwick nodded his little head and held the teddy tightly in his little arms. Patting his cheek she took leave of them. Isha kicked her legs in glee at being in the company of so many kids and waved her mama good bye.

While Pragya went to the hotel’s lounge, Bulbul and her little troop turned into the adjacent banquet hall of the hotel where the party was being conducted. Pragya looked around and spotted Neev sitting in one of the plush sofas waiting for her. The minute he spotted her, he rushed to her and held her hand tightly in his.

“How are you Pragya? Am I glad that you are still alive!” he said warmly. He tried to put his arm around her but Pragya ducked away and took the seat opposite to his. Neev could sense her discomfort and did not press on.

“What do you mean that you are glad to see me alive? Did you anticipate that I will commit suicide after you ditched me? If you did, then you are some man to still go ahead and leave me in the lurch after asking me to abscond from my home. Was the lure of the money your boss’s daughter could give you greater than your so-called love for me?” she spat out in anger.

“I understand your anger Pragya. You are perfectly justified in feeling this way but you do not know the whole truth. Please listen to what I have to say in my defense before passing a judgment on me,” pleaded Neev.
Pragya looked at him with a mixture or confusion and skepticism.

Neev then recounted the chain of events since that fateful day when they landed at the VT station but could not meet each other. By the time he had finished his story her eyes were streaming with tears. She could not believe that her family could go to such lengths of viciousness. She remembered seeing Mr.Dalal’s men at the station, and getting into the nearest train to avoid them. This corroborated Neev’s statement that he was hit by Dalal’s men. It was appalling to know that Nikhil or some other person had sent the SMS from Neev’s cell giving her the impression that it was he who had sent it. The news that he had ditched her had pushed her over the edge and made her consider ending her own life, a decision she regretted to this day. How can people be so cruel to their own kindred she wondered? More than what happened to her, what pained her more was the fact that Neev was made to bear the brunt of their anger against her for absconding on the wedding day. The guy was not only put through physical torture, being laid up in hospital for six months as it were but was also put through the emotional trauma of being made to believe that his lover had killed herself. She can well imagine Neev’s guilt of feeling responsible for her death as he had impregnated her. As she sat sobbing her heart out, Neev bent forwards and tried to console her by holding her hands in his.

Back in Mehra Mansion, Abhi woke up with a pounding headache. He cursed himself under his breath for having binged on too much alcohol the previous night especially on a half empty stomach. Trying to shake off his hangover, he looked around and found Pragya missing. He then looked into the cradle and found Isha missing as well. Presuming them to be down in the hall having breakfast, he staggered to the bathroom to brush his teeth and have a quick shower. As he was getting dressed for work, the events of the previous night slowly dawned on him. He remembered Pragya talking of leaving the house and asking for an annulment on the grounds that she was pregnant by another man. That hurt real bad even now. Then he remembered landing in the bar and trying to numb his pain by drinking heavily. He vaguely remembered the conversation with Neev asking him to accept Pragya and the baby. At this point he started sweating profusely. What has he done? He has gone and handed HIS wife and HIS baby to her erstwhile lover, virtually on a platter. How can he do that? What was he thinking? He suddenly felt like kicking himself hard. Would Neev have called her by now? What would have been her response? Forgetting his headache he rushed down calling out to Pragya. Bua informed him that she had gone with Isha to meet her friend from London. Hearing this he panicked more. Has she left him for good after getting the call from Neev taking away his daughter? Has he lost them forever?

“Did she say where she was meeting him?” asked Abhi, his heart pounding by now.
“Yes, she said she was going to Hotel Le Meridian,” answered Bua.
“I’ll be back,” he said and rushed out even as Bua and Baba shouted after him to have his breakfast first.
“What is wrong with our children?” asked Bua to Baba. “First Pragya rushes out without having her breakfast and within minutes Abhi follows her skipping his breakfast too. What is more important than the first meal of the day?”

Baba shrugged and said that this generation gave scant regard to both their health as well as advices from their elders.

Abhi hit the accelerator as soon as he got into his car and drove like a mad man. He had to stop his wife from leaving with her ex-boyfriend, come what may. He cannot afford to lose the two most precious beings in his life. Pragya may not love him right now but he will make her love him. He just needed more time to make her see and realize how right they were for each other. He is not giving up on them so easily. He wondered whether she wanted to leave him because she thought he did not love her. After all they did have a deal that she will leave after the baby was born. Maybe she thought she had to fulfill her end of the bargain and leave him for good. But then could she not feel his love? Did she not realize that his life is meaningless without her and Isha? He cursed himself for not confessing his love to her before. Why did he hesitate? Why did he have to wait for the first anniversary of their meeting to bare his heart? He was never shy of revealing his feelings or to speak his mind. Then why was he dumbstruck whenever he was in her presence? He will never be able to forgive himself if she leaves him thinking that he does not love her. She needs to know that he loves her with all his heart before she makes her choice.

He soon reached the hotel and jumped out of the car. He ran into the hotel and looked around for her. He heard the loud singing of the birthday song in the nearby banquet hall and turned in the direction of the sound. Through the open doorway he caught sight of his daughter in the arms of Bulbul. She looked so happy in the crowd and clapped her small hands when the song was over, mimicking the kids around her. His heart tugged at the sight of his beautiful angel. How can he give her up? No he will not. He will get her back at whatever cost, he thought. He was about to enter into the banquet hall to find Pragya when he overhead her unmistakable sobs coming from the lounge area. He turned around and saw his wife sitting opposite to Neev in one of the sofas, her hands held in his and his head bent towards hers. Something snapped in him seeing his wife so close to another man and being touched by him. Blood rushed to his head and he scurried to them. He caught Neev by his collar and dragged him up. Neev stared back at him in shock. He then balled his fist and threw him a punch under his chin. Neev went sprawling on the marble floor. Pragya’s eyes widened in shock and she screamed out “Abhi…….”.

So here it is. How is it guys? Pretty long update hun?… what will Abhi do now? What will be Pragya’s reaction on hearing Neev’s part of the story where he is not at fault? Will Abhi leave his girls and fight with Neev for his right or will he do the viceversa? To know more stay tuned until next week ( or if I can upload in the mid of the week)

Thank u so much for ur lovable comments, looks like everyone is busy now, no problem but don’t forget to express ur views because for every writer some words of appreciation is needed to boost them up to write next updates to entertain all u guys right? Loveu all stay blessed and don’t forget me Sayanora…

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