As the days of his stay at Coorg wore on, Ritvik settled into a comfortable routine. The Bopanna’s estate was sprawling and let him explore trails sometimes by walk and sometimes in their reconstructed Willys jeep. He found himself wanting to try running again and did go a couple of rounds now and then. The added advantage of the estate was that it was on top of a hill; perched perfectly facing the east and he could sit on the front steps and see the sun peeping shyly across the hills early in the morning. And of course, there was the bliss of the carrier signal not being there. No phone calls and no messages – at least until he went down the hill road to the place where it joined the market place. He did that occasionally and sent Kabir and Ananya a message in response to their calls and messages. He felt awful about lying to them and maintaining the pretence of his relative being unwell but he wasn’t yet ready to go back into real life.
As much as the days were peaceful and let his mind settle down, the nights were the worst. The campfire and its sparks only served to bring up hazy images which he would have much rather forgotten. Sleep was elusive and he felt caged with nowhere to go and nothing to do. The alcohol didn’t help much either. He tried reading and it seemed to help, looking at someone else’s life through the pages rather than turning back inwards towards his own. It was thus that he had spent over a week at Coorg. On the Sunday, he decided impulsively to extend his holiday and called his manager who was very supportive and asked him to take as long as he wanted.
He messaged Kabir and Ananya that he needed to stay on there for a few more days. And he got a simple response from Kabir asking if he needed anything and asking if his relative was getting better. After replying to the message, he went back to the estate. There had been no messages from Ananya. The fact bothered him a lot more than he cared to admit. His normally complacent mind jumped to make a conclusion that she had Kabir and that she did not need him anymore. The thought burned in his mind like a red hot iron and he slipped into a depression for the next couple of days that made him antisocial and uncommunicative enough for the Bopannas and even their dog to leave him alone.
He woke up one morning with a strange thought in his head. A thought that for the first time in his life scared him and made him want to reach out to someone. The first person that he would have turned to would have been Ananya. But she was with Kabir and he had no right to burden her with his baseless fears. But the bats that had been roused from their deep darkness refused to go back and settle down in the recesses of his mind. Suddenly, he felt mortal and that something was going to go horribly wrong. The panic continued through breakfast and he hardly touched the rice Kadubus that had been prepared specially for him. He was flipping through the newspaper for the umpteenth time when a notification about an agency caught his eye.
On a sudden impulse he got into the Willys and drove down to Madikeri where he spotted a cybercafé off the main road near the petrol station. He pulled up the organisation’s site and then filled up his nomination and then coming to the bottom of the page where it asked him to fill the next of kin, he hesitated. Then to his own surprise, he filled in Ananya’s name and number and submitted the form. When he completed this process, the site asked him to print out and keep his details safely. He used the printer there and folded and kept the sheet of paper in his wallet. As he returned to the estate, he felt a curious sense of relief and completion, as if this was a task that had been pending for some time, when in fact he had never even thought it until that morning.
* * * * *
Ananya woke up that morning and found that Kabir was already up and had made her breakfast and coffee. The gesture made her smile as she thanked her lucky stars for having brought him into her life. Her phone buzzed and she checked it to find Ritvik’s message regarding his staying back for some more days. She saw Kabir’s response and then debated with herself on whether she should add anything to the conversation. But an adamant streak held her back. She hadn’t liked the way he had left that evening and the entire conversation the next day sounded even more false. For the first time since she had met Ritvik, she felt that he was lying to her. The replies to her messages in between were also noncommittal and semiformal, not like Ritvik at all. And all these things made her stop when all she wanted to do was grab him and shake some sense into his thick skull.
She left for office in a cab with Kabir that day. Sitting in the back seat with her, Kabir was concerned about her constant stroke of ill luck that wouldn’t let go. It was like a black cloud hanging over her and seemed to cloud over her smile and the sparkle in her eyes. It wasn’t as if he believed in luck and omens. But this continued streak had him doubting the science of it all. He held Ananya’s hand and sought to give her as much positive strength as he could muster. She had been a ray of sunshine, the spark in his life and all this while, she had brought him so much that he couldn’t bear to see her like this, withdrawn and almost afraid. They reached her office and she got off, strangely reluctant to let go of his hand. The cabbie was getting visibly impatient as Ananya sat there finding some pretext or another to talk to Kabir. Finally, she alighted from the cab and stepped away waving good bye. Kabir told the cabbie the next stop and settled back in the cab, his thoughts running away from him.
As the cab neared his destination, Kabir settled the taxi fare and then stepped out on the pavement. A lady in front of him was struggling to hold her purse open and also count the money in her hands and as she juggled all this, she let go of a few notes which flew away in the breeze towards Kabir. She ran towards the notes and Kabir stepped forward to try and catch one of them that flew towards him. As the note dodged him at the last instant and he ran after it, he didn’t see the fine metal wire that held up a banner a foot or so above head level. The blink reflex is supposed to be activated in milliseconds but that is only if the eye registers the image. In the same milliseconds, the wire had done the damage and Kabir sank to the ground holding his right eye which had suddenly gone dark. He managed to pull out his phone and call Ananya while a small crowd milled around him.
* * * * *
By afternoon, Ritvik’s sense of panic had gone hyper and he was unable to sit in one place. Lunch was at best forgettable a meal and he paced around in his room not sure what was happening or what he should do. He took out his phone for the umpteenth time and looked at the silent dead black screen that stared back unblinkingly. He got out of the room and asked for the jeep keys, thinking that driving around would help. He didn’t know where he was going and was surprised to find himself going down towards town, in range of a cell network. As soon as he got into range, his phone started going berserk with messages. He unlocked the phone as he manoeuvred the wheel and found that they were all from Ananya including at least a dozen missed calls. He called her number immediately and felt relieved to hear the ring going through to the other end. She picked the call almost when it rang through fully and sounded as if she was in tears. Ritvik couldn’t control himself and peppered her with questions and learnt in the broken bits that she was able to incoherently able to get out, he learnt of the accident and Kabir’s admission in the hospital and the fact that he could lose his vision in his right eye. He just told Ananya to hold on and that he was coming right back.
The Willys did not have a rear view and he glanced backward and saw a bulky truck approaching at what seemed to be a slower pace. A car was coming at him a little distance away and he decided to take a chance and turn the jeep around. He flashed the headlights and turned the jeep around. Almost through the turn, he realised that the oncoming car wasn’t slowing down. He tried braking at the last instant but it was too late. The car hit the jeep on the left front and pushed it back right into the path of the truck which had come up right behind. The twin blows buffeted Ritvik breaking his spine and neck instantly. As his world became black, his last thought was that he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise to Ananya.
* * * * *
Ananya sat beside Kabir holding his hand. Her heart believed that the large dressing that covered up almost the entire right side of Kabir’s face was some figment of her imagination and that it would all disappear the moment she woke up. Kabir lay down with his face half turned the other way and hoped that Ananya wouldn’t be able to see it. His parents were coming in that evening and were as worried about his eye as they were relieved that it wasn’t anything more serious. Ananya felt that the cloud that had been chasing her had now started casting its shadow on Kabir as well. She felt all alone there at that moment and wished that Ritvik was around, that he would come soon.
Her phone rang and she opened it to see a strange number and cut it off. She was surprised when the call came again from the same number. She stepped out of the room and took the call. Her world came crashing down as she heard the voice on the other end tell her that she had been listed as next of kin by Ritvik and that he had been involved in an accident and that he had authorised her to take the decision for his organs to be donated. The floor opened up and she felt like she was falling endlessly as the voice went on to tell her that Ritvik’s organs could not be saved due to the nature of the accident and that only his eyes could be preserved.
She ran back into the room and could only wordlessly hug Kabir, sobbing endlessly. Kabir sensed that something had gone awfully wrong and just hugged her, comforting her and letting her calm down. It took over half an hour before he could piece what had gone on and when he finally heard the news, he did nothing other than gather her closer than before, letting his strength seep into her.
* * * * *
It had been three years now since that fateful day. Ananya sat across the breakfast table and watched Kabir eat. He sensed her looking at him and looked up and smiled, that same heart stopping smile that had never stopped doing that to her. Somehow, now she felt that it was both Kabir and Ritvik looking at her and smiling. The eyes were still all Kabir but knowing that it was Ritvik’s eye that had brought Kabir’s vision back, it seemed as if he was still with them, watching her with the same intensity that she was so familiar with. She got up and walked across to Kabir and lovingly kissed him.
Hearing her name being called from the other room, she walked into find her mother in law cradling little Ritvik who was starting to make a face and kick a fuss. Taking the baby from her mother, she sat down to feed him and as the baby grew busy, looked down at him as if she were checking off a list to make sure he was all ok. Check list done, she patted the top of his head, the sparse hair that was making its presence felt and the baby blinked and looked up at her, seeming to smile.
And she relaxed back in the chair and looked out of the window at the bright cheerful day that was today and felt that her luck had turned after all ……….