She was thoroughly enjoying her stroll when a man lying prone on the roadside caught her attention. Fearing the worst, she turned the limp figure over. Her heart leapt a mile when she saw the man's face...” Raina was dumbfounded. It was Rajeev. He was lying beside the wooden bench on the side walk.
She thought he had suffered a stroke or a cardiac arrest. She bent down to check his pulse and sent up a silent thank you that he was not dead. A wave of nauseating odour hit her nostrils. He was inebriated!! The sight of this good looking man lying sloshed on the roadside was perplexing and she remained standing there looking askance. It was early morning. There were only a few joggers, strollers and little children going to school in this small city and everyone was glancing at her.
She was in jeopardy. She wouldn’t leave him alone here, she just could not. Waiting she looked at the prone man again. Clean shaven and dressed in smart casuals, his tall frame looked awkward and out of place on the roadside. She noticed a red bruise on his forehead. flagging down an auto-rickshaw, She asked the driver to help her get Rajeev to her home nearby.
While he was sleeping she kept looking at him and wondered what had lead to his falling unconscious on the roadside. It was not like him to loiter around and get drunk. A bright student in college, his friends and teachers knew he would make a name for himself. She also knew that he admired her silently. His eyes spoke words which he could never articulate.
“Things took a different turn”, she rued. He woke up and rubbed a finger against the painful bruise “How are you feeling now?” Raina asked him. Rajeev was shocked out of his wits. She was sitting on the bedside. He looked at the evening sky through a large glass window “It must be a dream! What is she doing here?” he thought. Raina smiled “You should be thinking; what are YOU doing here?” She said.
He looked around. He was in the bedroom of a small apartment. The kitchen and living room were further visible from where he sat. It was sparsely but tastefully furnished. He could feel a harmonious vibe emanating. It certainly reflected the personality of the woman by his bedside. The curtains and carpets were earthy rich brown complementing the smooth ivory white furniture. There were just a few accessories strategically placed. “Just like Raina; simple and elegant”, he thought to himself.
She brought him some tea “How did you land up on the roadside?” She asked in a direct tone now, her hand going up to his forehead. He instinctively shirked back, stiffening at her touch. There was an unseen chord of tension between them. It suddenly started vibrating in his head. She kept quiet and removed her hand.
“I am sorry for the trouble”, he said, evading her question. He was still wondering how and where on earth she found him. He remembered he was in the bar of the hotel. He had been drinking there alone and had stepped out for a smoke and fresh air. “It is ok, though it wasn’t easy to haul you up here”, she said.
Suddenly the sequence of incidents became clear to him. He was feeling uneasy, having had more than his usual quota of drinks and had suddenly collapsed. His nerves were always high-strung when he came back here. Every visit took its toll. “You were lying unconscious. I had guessed that you had a bad fall.” She was trying not to further embarrass him. But he knew he was totally drunk last night. Being back in this city always undid his resolve.
Five years ago, Raina was his only reason to have stayed back in this nondescript town after his father’s transfer. He had been destroyed on knowing that she was engaged to a boy from a high class business family. Presuming that Raina never knew about his feelings, he had decided to leave this city.
He had stopped responding to all calls and messages, shut himself off from everyone and receded into a closed world. His career was his only salvation. He joined his family in Mumbai and immersed himself in reaching the top of the corporate ladder.
“I have to get going. I must have missed my flight back home.” He started fiddling with his smart phone to book his flight. Raina came back from the kitchen carrying a glass of water. “Have your medicine”, she said standing near him. “The doctor said you have a mild concussion”, he was once again struck by her warmth and simplicity.
Having booked his ticket, he spoke “I owe you an explanation.” Raina cut him short, “No, I don’t need one.” She feared it. He knew she was afraid that he would blame her. But she didn’t have a reason to fear. What happened five years ago was no one’s fault. He had never gathered the courage to express himself to her. “Your family must be waiting for your call.” she said. “Call them and inform that you are alright.”
“Ma died last year, there is no one else”, he said flatly. Her heart skipped a beat. That means he is not married. “Girlfriend?” she questioned. He shook his head in a no. She was relieved.
She had been thinking all day. It was her last chance. She spoke aloud, “You should have called me sometime. I convinced my father to meet you. But you were gone! ” He didn’t know what to say further. “I never married.” She said.
The thought struck their minds together. The falling had brought them together again. They both knew it was a second chance and they were determined to not to let this go by.
They embraced each other. “You will never fall after today”. She said. “Never” he closed his eyes and smiled.