Nikhil was dozing in his aisle seat as the bus moved. Mahima was also asleep with the child in her lap. It was 12 in the morning and the bus seemed quiet in the dark. Pakhi with her closed eyes was still very much awake. She was restless as she couldn’t decide the future of her uncertain expectations and hopes. She looked to her right and glanced at Nikhil,who was probably dreaming about his Pakhi in the sleep. She kept staring at Nikhil’s face and little Pakhi’s button nose,who slept peacefully in Mahima’s lap. Their faces were vaguely visible from the faint light of the moon, that entered through the windows. Pakhi didn’t know how to hold on to that moment forever, she wanted to look at the beautiful family sleeping in peace, for longer. In an impulse she got up from her seat with her phone camera, to click a picture of Nikhil with his family! As soon as she clicked the picture, the flash light went on and her heart skipped 2 beats as Mahima moved her eyes in discomfort due to the sudden throw of light on her face. Pakhi almost jumped back into her seat and closed her eyes pretending to be asleep. Soon she realised that she was acting like a whimsical teenager as it was wrong to click someone’s photographer without their consent. Still she couldn’t delete it, she compromised with her conscience and instead decided to frame the photograph in her bedroom wall!
“Pakhi, hey Pakhi! We have reached the dhaba.”, said Mahima while she tapped Pakhi’s shoulder in an attempt to wake her up. Pakhi opened her eyes and found Mahima smiling at her. “We are going to have dinner now, you are travelling alone so please come with us”, Mahima said as she picked up her little child from the seat. Pakhi modestly replied, “So sweet of you to think of me, but it’s alright, you guys can carry on.” Nikhil who was busy in his seat making cerelac for the child, looked up at Pakhi and said, “Do not hesitate please, we would be happy to dine with you. Moreover it isn’t good for you to skip dinner” Mahima intervened as she looked at Nikhil and asked, “What do you mean by it is not good for her to skip dinner”? Nikhil smiled and said, “Oh! I meant it isn’t good to skip dinner, in general”. He again looked at Pakhi and requested her to join them.
The family along with Pakhi took a corner table at the dhaba. While the other two were busy selecting dishes to be ordered, Mahima was in a weird denial, she realised something was strange about Nikhil that day. After a lot of thought she understood what was bothering her, and it was nothing but Nikhil’s smile! Mahima recalled that she had never seen him smile in his everyday, other than when he played with the child. Mahima was lost in her thoughts and was trying to think about the ‘unthinkable’, while Pakhi suddenly held her hand and said, “I haven’t asked your name yet, I want to know your name so that when I look back at this time I know who I am recalling in my memories”. Mahima smiled and told her name. Nikhil asked Mahima to decide her order from the menu card. They decided to order one plate palak paneer and dal makhani with 10 tandoori rotis. Soon the food was served while they chatted about the current weather conditions in Gangtok.
Nikhil asked Pakhi while he tore a corner of the tandoori roti and dipped it in the dal, “You have planned for a solo trip then?” Pakhi replied, “It’s not for a trip, I visit Gangtok every fortnight to check on my staff and business as I have built a homestay there.” Nikhil exuberantly asked, “You have your own homestay? That is so exciting, I must say. So doing an Mba helped you become a business person I see!” Mahima with her perplexed expression looked at Nikhil as he finished his sentence. Pakhi understood that Nikhil shouldn’t be knowing about her ‘Mba’ as they had just met that day in Mahima’s head! She chuckled and looked at Mahima and said, “Your husband is a spy I must say, he overheard my conversation with a friend where I was talking about my Mba, while you were asleep.” Mahima gazed at Pakhi and smiled. She had weird thoughts in her mind about Pakhi by then. She finished her food and noticed Nikhil staring at Pakhi who was cleaning her hands in the nearby was basin. The bus honked for a couple of times and everyone steadily went back to their respective seats.
“Let me take the aisle seat now and you take the window one”, said Mahima. Nikhil said, “No I want the leg space of the aisle seat, let me be comfortably seated here“. Mahima obliged him and took her usual window seat with the child in her lap. She was again lost in her thoughts about Nikhil and Pakhi and her own life, while sleep slowly engulfed her.
She woke up all of a sudden in the middle of the night. She looked outside and realised that the bus was stranded at a petrol pump. She had no idea about the time as her phone was in the bag. She looked to her left only to find two empty seats. Nikhil and Pakhi both were gone, gone somewhere, but she was certain that they were together!
The bus was asleep with the on board passengers as Mahima picked up the child in her arms and went out in search of Nikhil. She didn’t even realise that she had a phone with which she could have called him, perhaps she wanted to witness herself the ‘unthinkable’ She found the bus driver and the service man chatting with staff of the petrol pump. But Nikhil and Pakhi were nowhere to be seen yet. She wandered in the lonely space haphazardly until she heard some voices and instinctively followed it to reach at the backyard of the space.
She gasped while she almost ran to reach the voices. At a distance of 4 metres she spotted Pakhi resting her head in Nikhil’s chest while he stood against the red brick walls. Pakhi had tears which glistened under the yellow street light. Nikhil caressed her strands of hair while he looked at her with his moistened eyes and said, “Don’t worry dear, please forgive me. I shall tell about you to Mahima soon.” Pakhi wiped her tears and Nikhil helped her in doing so. She said, “I have missed you so much all these years, I have none with me now after mother is gone”. Nikhil hugged her tightly and said, “You have me and you know that, I have been a miserable man to have abandoned you for my ego. But finding you after all these years I know what the universe wants from me”. Mahima couldn’t listen any further, she clasped little Pakhi in her arms as she rushed back towards the bus. She wept and yelled without a sound! Her tears wouldn’t stop even after she took her seat. She looked at little Pakhi’s asleep face and that night she hated the name ‘Pakhi’. She sobbed until she heard Nikhil coming back to the bus. She closed her eyes but her heart was already covered with open wounds then.
To be continued….
Next episode comes up tomorrow!