Too Late For Atonement – Chapter -10
Jennifer felt the burden of her father’s betrayal wear her down. The boil of rage had made her decide she needed to go to Mumbai and confront him. He was the pivot around whom miseries of her life revolved. But deep within, her heart lurched in anxiety.
She wanted to protect the fond father-daughter moments from tarnishing in the spew of acid she felt fill her up. She was battling the conflict that though her father was a hardcore businessman at heart, he couldn’t have traded his family’s joy for a momentary fling. However, temptations have a way of making the unwilling spirit give into the weaknesses of the body.
Jennifer felt her fury give way to reasoning. The doting daughter in her, wanted to give her father a benefit of doubt. But, the facts in her hand, the diary, the torn photograph, her mother’s silent suffering, were clues enough to hint a grave secret. She had to unearth the ploy.
While she waited for the travel agent to revert with her flight details, she decided to keep the iniquitous thoughts at bay watching TV. She flipped through channels without waiting to note what was on air. From MTV to FTV to Food Food to Surya TV to Cartoon Network she navigated through all, without stopping for longer than a blink.
A smile of familiarity rose to her lips as she stopped to see what Daya was up to in CID, but her mind wasn’t ready for any more drama than that was already on in her life. She decided to switch to news channels. The weather report was on air, predicting heavy rainfall in the coming 15 days. Jennifer’s mind wandered to the jokes she and her friends cracked on the meteorological department. If they say it’ll rain heavy, possibility of a drought was way higher.
Jennifer was about to change the channel when a breaking news interrupted the program. A familiar face claimed to be reporting from the Bombay Hospital in Mumbai, stated that on autopsy of a badly disfigured body found near the Pune- Mumbai Expressway, it was revealed to belong to a celebrated businessman from Kochi.
Jennifer’s heart jumped into her throat, pounding so loud that she could hardly hear the name. Moisture welled her eyes making it impossible to read the news as it streamed past in the lower border of the screen.
The remote slipped from her grip with a thud, waking her from the trance. For the first time in her life, she thanked the News channel for being repetitive about the breaking news, a fact she loathed and never failed to frown upon.
Her curse had come true. It was the news of her father’s death. Joesph Kurien. Soon the clouds of overwhelming emotions gave way to a fiendish smirk. Things were beginning to fall in place.
“Cut it…..”, shrieked Tara, for the twenty-first time. She wasn’t able to concentrate on the shoot and something major was amiss from the diaper advertisement she was working on.
Working with child artists is quite challenging. Frequent retakes only add to the difficulty, making the child go crankier by the minute. Tara just couldn’t concentrate. Memories of Roohi’s childhood would come gushing through the flood-gates as soon as the camera started rolling.
Tara decided to let her assistant take over for the shoot, stepping out to find peace with a cup of black coffee. She darted to her cabin but the team noted in horror stream of tears tint Tara’s cheeks. It was a first and no one missed it.
In Tara’s mind played the day when Roohi was around a year old and learning to take her baby steps. Shekhar was out-of-town for work and Tara had taken a day off. While she encouraged Roohi to walk, the landline phone rang.
Hoping it to be Shekhar, Tara answered in an excited voice.
“Hello honey…you called at the perfect time. I was about to call you”
Without waiting for a reply, she continued; “You know our Roohi took her first steps this morning” said Tara in a voice full of motherly jubilation.
The other end of the line was quiet. She could hear a cold sigh, light breathing but nothing more than that.
Worried and alarmed Tara blurted out, “Hello….Shekhar….you there?”
The phone line boomed with the baritone of a familiar voice. It didn’t belong to Shekhar. Fear and fury gave her goose-bumps. It was Roohi’s biological father on the line.
Her thoughts were disrupted with, “Tara, I am coming over….”
Before she could react, the line went dead. The engaged tone hit her ear-drums like the blare of rock music threatening to deafen her.
She wanted to run away with her precious child. Protect her from his alluring charm that disarmed her every time he was around. She dreaded he might take away Roohi from her. She wanted Shekhar to return that very minute. His family needed him.
Tara raced to her closet to bring her handbag, checked for money while shoving her phone inside, dashing to pack the baby bag, when the doorbell rang.
She stopped as if shot point-blank. Her game was up. He was here.
The chaos disturbed Roohi and she started crying. Tara thought of escaping from the balcony, but trying to jump down the fourth floor with a year old baby was nothing short of a suicide attempt with murder of an infant at best.
She was cornered. She had to face him, she had to protect Roohi and she had to maintain the sanctity of her marriage.
Overwhelmed by fear, with dwindling determination, she reached for the door that was trembling with fervent knocking.
She asked in a bleak voice “Who is it?” which was answered by the thumping growing louder.
Putting the safety chain lock, she opened the door.
“It’s me Aryan…Aryan Ahuja….your neighbor”
“Oh it’s you….then why didn’t you reply when I asked who was it?” mumbled Tara trying to catch on her breath and wiping the sweat off her brow.
“Oh! Did you ask? Sorry… I didn’t hear you ask Mrs. Dutta and I heard Roohi wailing. With you not answering the doorbell, I got little worried that’s why I was hammering your door”
“Actually…” said Tara while racing her mind to come up with an excuse.
“Actually?” asked Aryan with suspicion, his favorite emotion painted over his face and a spiked brow.
“Err…actually I am not well, I have been vomiting, that’s why Roohi was feeling alarmed and started crying” said Tara heaving a sigh of relief and acting to wipe off her face.
“Oh…” said Aryan with an unconvinced look.
“Can I help you with anything? Medicine maybe?” Aryan was trying to assess the situation probing his eyeball through the narrow crevice the chain lock allowed.
“Oh no…thank you Aryan, but I am fine…I have the medicine…please don’t worry”
“Mrs. Dutta are you trying to push me away?” said Aryan rather bluntly with a mocking smile.
While Tara struggled, a tall figure silhouetted behind Aryan.
“She’s expecting me. Would you please excuse us?” boomed the figure.
Aryan turned to look who it was. Tara was left with no choice but to hastily shove him inside before Aryan could pick any unwanted cues.
Read the next part here : Chapter 11