The First Meet

Priya was viewing herself winning the gold medal next year, and getting a job at Google, where Sundar Pichai was himself going to facilitate her. But, as soon as she went on stage, she felt as if the entire stage collapsed. She was trying to figure out what happened, and only after a few seconds, realised that she was dreaming and her sweet dream was now over. And within a few more seconds, she also came to know about the reason for her terrible destruction… It was none other than her younger sister, Naina. 

"Oi, enough of sleeping, now wake up!" Naina yelled out, jealous and annoyed at the same time. 

Priya understood quite well that if she doesn't get out of her bed now, Naina would not hesitate to greet her good morning with a bucket full of ice water. So, she hesitantly got out of bed. After washing up, she went downstairs to find her mom and sister already on the table, waiting for their breakfast to arrive.

"Shanti…" Priya's mom Rajeshwari called her house help Shanti, who was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the family.

Hearing Raji's voice, Shanti peeked through the kitchen window and replied "Coming Aunty"

Shanti was a young girl, probably a year or two younger than Priya. Her mother Shyamala used to work in their house earlier, along with their neighbours Malhotra's house. But, 10 years back, when Mrs Malhotra died of cancer, Mr Girish Malhotra had requested her to stay in their house to take care of his son. After that, Shyamala started staying in their house and sent her daughter Shanti to work in the Mathur Mansion. Shanti was a very smart and sincere girl, Raji had liked her almost instantly during their first meet. In these ten years, she had almost become a part of the family. Raji loved her as her own daughter, and Priya and Naina were more than sisters to her. They made sure that she continues her studies alongside working as a house help. So, she was admitted to a distance learning B.Sc degree after she confessed her love for mathematics. She would work in the day and study at night regularly.

Shanti brought the breakfast bowls to the table and served the three Mathur ladies with Chole Bathure. After she was done serving, she took out her own plate and started having her food. It was a strict instruction from Rajeshwari that Shanti must have her food at the same time along with the family, and any miss would lead to severe punishments. Shanti was never punished by Rajeshwari except once when she forgot to have her lunch. After that, she made sure to eat on time.

The breakfast was almost silent, and after finishing her food Rajeshwari was about to get up to the washbasin when suddenly she asked Shanti about the health update of their neighbour Mr Girish Malhotra.

"How is Girish Bahiya?" She asked Shanti, sounding a bit concerned.

"Same as yesterday, didn't get to senses, he is still unconscious" came a tensed reply from Shanti.

"Girish uncle is still unconscious!! Ohh!! I am really sorry to hear it! He is such an adorable human being!" Exclaimed Naina, to which Priya agreed.

"Yes.." said Rajeshwari, as she continued.."But, I am more worried about Mohit. The young lad is really having a tough time, and there is no one to support him"

"How about going to visit them this evening? Even Shanti is going to the hospital today as Shyamala aunty caught a cold." Suggested Naina, to which Priya nodded in agreement. Priya never liked to talk much and displayed her emotions very rarely. She would generally do the talking with nods and facial expressions. Though outsiders found it a bit odd, the Mathur household was habituated to it.

When everyone accepted the proposal, Rajeshwari decided that they will leave for the hospital along with Shanti early in the evening and would return home late at night along with Shanti, after Mohit arrives in the hospital to stay with his father at night.

As planned, they left their home early at around 4:30 to reach the hospital at 5:10. As Shanti already knew where Mr Mathur was, they didn't have to ask the receptionist about their way. They simply followed Shanti and landed in front of one of the most elaborate ICU cabins of the hospital, specially designed for the most serious patients.

Mohit was alone there with his still unconscious father. Though he is mentally very tough, the pressure of the situation had clearly taken a toll on him this time, which was clearly evident from his deep dark circles and quite a dull face.

"Mohit...How are you?" Rajeshwari asked.

Mohit released a deep sigh before replying "Fine aunty"

After the formal introduction and exchange of greetings, Rajeshwari informed Mohit that they have come prepared to stay over for the evening, so that Mohit can go home and take a rest for sometime, before coming back for the night. Mohit was highly thankful to Rajeshwari for this kind gesture as he thanked her and the girls wholeheartedly before bidding them goodbye.

That evening, Rajeshwari and the girls took care of everything in the hospital. When the senior doctor came to visit, they informed him that the bed sheets of the cabin are not being changed after regular intervals, which may lead to infections (as they were informed by Mohit earlier). The doctor assured them that he would take care of the matter and informed them that though Mr. Malhotra was not completely out of danger yet, his condition was stable. But the biggest threat was that he was not showing much response to medicines, which may delay his recovery as they have to keep changing medicines. Otherwise, everything was normal. Rajeshwari and the girls greeted the doctor as he went out of the cabin after ordering the nurse to start giving night time medicines after an hour, to which the nurse obliged. 

After the nurse completed giving all the medicines and requested them to now go out and wait for the patient's son outside, they came out of the cabin and sat on the waiting bench outside the cabin. Time passed by... all the patients were now being instructed to sleep and the lights of the cabin were going off one by one, the Mathur ladies were still waiting for Mohit to come back, but he didn't come. After when the hour hand of the clock touched 10, Rajeshwari grew impatient and started calling Mohit, but to her utmost surprise, his mobile phone was switched off! After another one hour, when Mohit still didn't return, Rajeshwari started to panic slightly. She desperately started calling Mohit over and over again but everytime, she was greeted by the same mechanical female voice informing her that the number she was calling was currently switched off! 

After another hour, when the clock ticked past midnight, but there was still not a single sign of Mohit, evil thoughts started crossing her mind...What if something happened on the way?... She knew that Mohit was hell tired but he would not leave his bike at any cost…what if he met with an accident?...What if he was… But her chain of thoughts were interrupted by a very young lad in his early twenties, who was looking quite desperate and was hurriedly searching for a certain room with a papernote in his hand, on which, Rajeshwari guessed, the room number was written. After tensely observing all the number plates of the cabins as he passed them by, he came to a sudden halt in front of Rajeshwari, just outside Mr. Malhotra's cabin.

"Excuse me aunty, can you please confirm for me? Is it Mr. Girish Malhotra inside?" The young lad was now trying to speak to Rajeshwari, who was slightly taken aback by his fluent British English accent though he looked thoroughly Indian. 

Rajeshwari nodded slightly, and before she could actually say anything in reply, the boy had already rushed inside the cabin. Rajeshwari was thinking about him when suddenly she noticed that Mohit was also rushing towards her with a bandage in his left arm. 

"Mohit!...What happened to you?". Rajeshwari screamed to Mohit. 

"Just a minor accident aunty. I accidentally fell off the bike, but I have already taken first-aid. Nothing serious. I am all right, don't worry. But Aunty, I am so sorry that I was late, papa had to be all alone for so long, I will just go and check him right away." Mohit turned towards the cabin immediately, before Rajeshwari could even tell him about the young boy who had entered the cabin just a few minutes ago.

Inside the cabin, Rohit, who was just standing beside his papa's bed, couldn't believe that the man whom he knew to be so strong and energetic all his life was lying there motionless in front of him. He was feeling an unbearable pain in his heart for not meeting or contacting his family for the last two years. Somewhere deep inside, his mind knew that he was somewhat responsible for his father's condition. Currently, a violent battle was going on between his mind and heart, one accusing him of his guilt, the other pleading for his innocence. 

Rohit was simply standing there, his stare fixed on his father, and his mind swiftly recalling all the happy moments that he spent with him, when Mohit entered the cabin.

When Mohit's eyes met his brother's, he felt as if a strong shock of lightning had hit him. He had never, even in his distant dreams, imagined that his younger brother, who had not even called them for the last two years, would come back to check his father. But, what took him by immense surprise was that Rohit, who had rejected to speak with him many times in the past, was actually smiling at him, though faintly. His eyes were showing a deep feel of guilt, mixed with an avid sense of foreboding, to which Mohit couldn't resist responding.

He moved swiftly towards Rohit, and without even realising, pulled him into a deep and tight hug. Rohit responded equally to his brother's affection, and when they finally parted, both of them had tears in their eyes and smile on their lips, which made them forget every single bitterness of the past two years, as if the time had revolted 24 months back.

After a long nostalgic silence, when they finally came back to reality, Mohit spoke first…

Mohit - "But how did you know the name of the hospital? I didn't give you the address.."

Rohit  - "Actually, I was going from the airport to our home by this road only, when I saw you going out of the hospital. I waited for you in the reception area for a long time, so that we could come to visit together once you return, but after many hours, when you didn't come back, and your phone was also switched off, then I asked the receptionist about the room number."

The two brothers were lost in themselves when Rajeshwari entered the cabin. She was stunned to see Mohit grinning and side-hugging  the young boy, as she had never seen the boy in the Malhotra house in the past ten years.

"Mohit…." Rajeshwari whispered.

Mohit - "Ohh Aunty! Come meet my brother Rohit."

Raji (shocked) - "This young lad is your brother??" 

Mohit - "Yes Aunty. He is my own younger brother. But, why aunty?"

Raji (trying to change the tone a bit) - "No, I mean I have never seen him before, that's why."

Mohit - "Ohh! That's because he doesn't live with us aunty, and visits us very rarely. Maybe That's why you have never noticed him."

Raji (Half satisfied, half confused) - "Yeah, maybe that's why…"

Mohit - "Well aunty, I think now you should get going, because it's already nearing 1'o clock, and it's not at all safe for you and the girls to be out so late."

Once Mohit mentioned about the time, only then Rajeshwari noticed that it was indeed very late and she knew very well that how much unsafe it is to go out at this time with three young girls. She got nervous at the thought of various kinds of danger, and started sweating, which made Mohit sense her feelings.

Mohit - "Don't worry aunty, now that I have come back, Rohit will not have to stay here, he will go home too. So, if you want, you can go home with him. Rohit, take my car, it is in the parking lot." (Mohit said while throwing the car keys towards Rohit). 

Rohit - "But I don't wanna go. I came here just now, and am not tired. Moreover, you were handling everything alone since the last two days. You must be very tired and stressed, I think you need rest. You go home. I will stay here."

Mohit - "But, you must also be travelling since morning, and I know that you always had jet lag issues. And, I went home in the evening and took a good refreshing nap. I think you are in more need of rest than me. So, listen to my words, go home, and take rest. Once you get refreshed, you can come and stay here tomorrow, and then I will also take some rest. Okay."

Rohit understood that there is no point in arguing with his brother, and was about to leave the cabin, when Raji stopped him and said…

Raji - "Mohit, I have brought my car, and we can easily accommodate Rohit, so please keep your car with you, you may need it in emergency situations."

Mohit thought for a while and then replied…

Mohit - "Okay aunty, and thanks a lot for coming, you helped me a lot today."

Raji (smiling) - "Arree! It's nothing dear"

After the completion of farewells and goodbyes, Rohit and Rajeshwari came out of the cabin, where the three girls were waiting for Rajeshwari to arrive, but they had never expected to find Rohit there too!

When Rohit moved nearer, he could see a poor but confident girl who clearly didn't belong to the family but was emotionally very attached to all of them; a bubbly teen girl, probably still in high school, who had very high spirits; and a young girl, whom, strangely, Rohit couldn't read at all, as if she was completely blank, emotionless!

Rohit didn't have any habit or any intention to stare at girls for a long time, but this girl was different. She was different because, unlike any other girl, she was not even looking at him properly. This attracted Rohit's attention towards her, and the fact that she was completely unreadable made her an intriguing character to him. As if he knew that deep within her, a lot of mysteries are buried.

To be continued……..