Home [Song-fic]

*Entry For Fanfiction Royale*
Jai, Rushali and Neer. They were the inseparable trio. But as time moves on, everything separates. All the laughter, happiness, smiles, good days- they all bury beneath the power of time. Now the only way left to fix it all is- Home.

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4. 19 March, 1996

19 March, 1996

 

The streets moved like a film reel.

Unfamiliar shops, unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar buildings, unfamiliar trees, unfamiliar surroundings. Everything in the vision churned to become a part of the music that was rolling in the air of the car.

There are some moments when you are listening to a song, sitting in a car and looking outside as if you are in a movie and your whole life is based on that one song.  This was one of the moments Neer was having.

Paul McCartney’s voice raised up as Mrs. Beri tapped on the volume button.

Yesterday...

All my troubles seemed so far awaayy

Neer winced and looked out the window, concentrating on every detail of the new area.

Now it looks as though they’re here to say

Oh, I believe in yesterday.

“Mom, just turn down the volume,” he said, looking over at her through the rear view mirror.

Stepping in Suncity was something hard to do. He knew he had to face people. By people, he meant people from his past he wasn’t ready to meet. He wanted to forget everything that happened. Ignoring his thoughts was the best thing he could do at the moment.  

And this song was just coaxing his thoughts to burst out of his head.

Suddenly...

I am not half the man I used to be

“Yeah, it’s too depressing,” Jai agreed.

Jai was sitting beside him in the back seat of the car. His eyes were glued on to his Nintendo and it was visible that a serious game was going on, looking at the seriousness on his face. Neer was surprised that he was even paying attention to the song playing in the background.

“But I thought you liked that song!” Mrs Beri dismayed, as she stubbornly refused to turn down the volume.  

Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Mr Beri peeked up at the backseat through the rear view mirror. Neer’s head hung out the window and Jai’s eyes didn’t look anywhere but the Nintendo screen. “Come on, it’s a nice song. How could you refuse to listen to Beatles?”

Mr and Mrs Beri’s obsession with Beatles was a strong factor in the sustenance of their eighteen year long relationship. They were married arranged but they only agreed to it because of their obsession with the band. Sort of an odd story but it was the truth.

 They soon reached their destination.

The house looked beautiful from the outside.

And so the girl peeking out of one of its windows.

Rushali.

They parked at the gate so it was a bit far to see who it was. Her pale-golden skin glowed and her dark brown hair shined gold with the rays of the setting sun falling over her. She looked like an angel fallen from heaven. Neer wondered if she had wings grown on her back.

Her blue-green eyes tried to see who it was. She raised her palm above her eyes, blocking the sunlight that blinded her vision.

There was a small cherry red Maruti-800 which stood at their gate. Her eyes lit up as she saw Jai and Mr. Beri getting out of the car. Mr. Beri leaned against the car and pulled out piece of paper from his pocket. Jai was busy with his Nintendo.

Her eyes turned to someone sitting inside, completely still, looking towards the house.

Of course, it’s Neer. She thought.

She squinted her eyes to look closer.

She froze.

The two grey eyes gazed directly back at her. She could feel his strong gaze upon her. A current crawled in her backbone.

She grabbed the edge of the curtains and jerked them back over the window.

She tightly closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

It’s okay. She reminded herself. He’s here, it’s okay. After all, it’s been two years.

Taking another deep breath, she turned around and headed towards the corridor. She slipped her feet into her slippers and opened the entrance door.

“Ma, they’re here! I am going out to get them,” she called out.

Mrs. Bhatt jumped out of the bathroom in her bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her head.

“What?” She panicked. Her eyes pierced out of her sockets. She flicked her wrist at Rushali and said, “Okay, just get them in. I am going to get ready.”

 

She briskly walked up the slope that led to the gate. She kept her eyes down the whole time she walked over there. She could feel Neer’s gaze following her to the gate.

Her frilly long skirt flailed against the wind and her hair danced behind her shoulders like it happens in a movie. She wore a purple tank top which exposed her flawless skin shining under the orange rays of the sleepy sun. Neer’s eyes were stuck and too stubborn to move away. 

Mr. Beri looked up and let out a sigh of relief. He quickly crumpled the paper in his fist.

“Oh there you are! I was confused where your house is.” He stretched out his palm towards Rushali.

She shook his hand and smiled. “Good evening, Mr. Beri.”

Jai looked up and literally gaped. He was so lost, he didn’t even realise when his Nintendo slipped from his hands and dropped to the ground.

Mrs. Beri’s eyes widened and she instantly opened the door, slightly hitting Mr. Beri who was standing in front of it.

Rushali?!” she shrieked, scanning her from head to toe. “You look like a darling!” She hugged her tightly, nearly choking Rushali.

“Doesn’t she look fabulous?!” She said, looking at Mr. Beri who gave a nod of approval, amazed. “You’ve turned into a diva!”

Rushali giggled. “No, Mrs. Beri, not as beautiful as you.”

“Oh, that, I know,” she joked.

Mrs. Beri looked at Jai over her shoulder and smiled.

“What are you doing there, gaping like an idiot? Come here!” Mrs Beri teased and secretly winked at him.

Jai winced at his mother and jogged to them. He never liked when his mother winked at him when a beautiful girl stood nearby, especially if that girl was Rushali.

Neer got the sign. Before Mrs. Beri could say anything to him, he opened the door and stepped out of the car. His eyes were still on Rushali. He noticed Rushali quickly peeking at him from the corner of her eye and he smiled.

Mr. and Mrs. Beri headed towards the house, leaving the three of them alone.

“Jai!” Rushali threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. He hugged her back, in half disbelief that this wasn’t a dream.

He talked to her over the phone but never saw her. Now that she’s standing there in front of him, he couldn’t believe that she changed so much.

“I missed you so much, Shelly belly,” he laughed against her hair and pulled back. “Look who turned into a smokin’ mind-bogglingly-alluring gene.”

Shelly laughed and lightly smacked his shoulder with her fist. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“You, looking like this, don’t make sense. I thought you would have braces and geeky glasses and hair with bubble gum sticking to it. You have surprised me, girl.”

“You’re gross!” She said, pushing him away.

Her eyes turned towards Neer who was looking at her and smiling. She was a little upset with him for not talking to her for years but right now she just wanted to forget all of it.

After all, it’s been two years.

“Neer,” she faintly smiled and hugged him.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tightly.

It’s the first time in two years he heard her say his name. He always loved that voice.

He knew that it was his fault that he didn’t listen to her voice for years. He just wasn’t ready to talk to her. She called him almost every day after what happened but he always refused to talk. He was filled with fear. Fear of getting betrayed again. Confusion consumed his thoughts and his indecisive nature led to two years of isolation from Rushali. He felt that it was bad in his part to ignore her. She might not only be calling to say sorry. She might even have an explanation as to why she did it because as far as he knew Rushali, she wasn’t the kind of person who would betray anyone.

Rushali knew that he knows that. But he still didn’t talk to her. She never liked talking on phone but for him, she called him every day. In this unfamiliar place, she was lonely and she missed Regalia every single day. She missed her best friends. But the one she always blabbered to about the silliest things that happened during the day, wasn’t talking to her. And hated her. That’s what she felt.

Neer pulled back. His lips turned up and he looked into her eyes. Her dazzling eyes.

“What happened to you?” He asked looking at her from head to toe.

 Rushali’s smile disappeared. She looked into his eyes, searching for something she had been searching for years.

“What happened to you?” She replied back more than questioning. She twisted her feet and briskly walked down the slope towards the house.

Neer and Jai watched her go in silence.

“Was she angry?” Jai asked, confused and also trying to overcome the awkward silence. He looked at Neer unsurely. “What- I’m confused.”

Neer ignored and walked towards the house.

Not again. Jai rolled his eyes to heaven and followed Neer.

“You kids are killing me now.”

★☆★

“You want some help?”

The drawing room erupted into a unanimous laughter. The two families talked, laughing and giggling at the silly incidents of old time. Jai sat in the corner, listening intently to hear out any silly information about his parents which may be blurted any moment by the other family so that he could bomb it at them in times of need.

 Light air floated around the room and became denser as it neared the kitchen where Rushali was preparing her famous cheese pasta and sauce. And she was accompanied by Neer, hence, increasing the level of discomfort.

She had no problem with Neer, well she wouldn’t have had any problem IF HE WOULD’VE PICKED UP THE PHONE ALL THOSE YEARS AND RESOLVED IT THEN AND THERE, THEN THIS MOMENT WOULD NEVER HAVE COME. She thought, anger seeping into her more and more with every swivel of her spatula on the sauce pan.

Why was she so angry? Herself she was confused why she was angry with Neer when this all started because of her. But if she was angry, she was angry as to why he- of all people- would ignore her when he knew that the only people she could ever comfortably call friends were Jai and him, and if he bailed out on her then who else she would be left with?

After a long moment of silence, she struggled to calm her tone. “No, it’s alright. I don’t want to give you any inconvenience.”

A wave of disappointment washed over Neer’s face. He had no clue why she was acting like this.

I mean, I am just trying to forgive her. He thought, confused.

Neer needed time. That was all this was about. Time had been something which he felt should have moved a bit slower. He didn’t pick up the phone when Rushali called him that day- because he needed time. He didn’t show up when she slipped a note under his bedroom door, begging him to meet her- because he wanted time. He didn’t reach out for the phone and talk to her whenever she called him after she had left- because he needed time. Time to stay away and let it slip with sand so until the time he got ready to confront, everything would be forgotten.  

But now the only time he wanted was the time to talk to her. He had no idea why he didn’t need time to be far away from her. After all those years of silence he just wanted to... talk- again.

“Really, I don’t have any problem, let me just help you.”

He reached out and lightly grabbed Rushali’s wrist when he was suddenly invited with a strong jerk. Rushali snapped her head at him, her angry eyes glaring into his soul.

“Why are you doing this?” She spoke sharply through clenched teeth.

“Wha-“

“Why are you trying to show as if nothing happened?” She cut in.

When Neer didn’t say anything, she continued, “You think after all these years I would forget whatever happened between us and move on? I guess that’s what you were expecting that I would forget the times I needed you and you weren’t even there because you were too busy being angry with me.”

Neer’s lips tightly pressed into a thin line. His arms were crossed against his chest, his gaze firmly fixed on Rushali. He closed his eyes briefly and inhaled the delicious smell in the air. The smell of the garlic-something sauce filled his lungs with delightful memories. He recognised this smell as Rushali’s mother’s famous pasta sauce smell. It was famous in the locality and that sauce won her many years of winnings in the local cooking competition called ‘Taste In Haste’.

“It’s my great granny’s invention,” Shelly used to tell him when they were little. “She had fat fingers.” She lifted her stretched palm up in air. “Her one finger was the size of my two fingers together.”

Neer huffed. “That can’t be possible. No one could have fingers so fat.”

“Oh, everything is possible, kiddo,” she said, seizing the opportunity to say her mother’s pet dialogue.

Neer never felt odd about her calling him kiddo although she was a year younger than him, but it sure took away his feeling of superiority. “I’m not your kiddo,” he snapped.

“Fat fingers have magic in them, kiddo” she said, teasing him, and quickly pulled his cheek with great force (almost ripped it), then sprinted away before he could return back his revenge. He remembered sitting there on the stairs where they were talking and holding his palm against his almost-ripped cheek tightly and plotting revenge against her. But he could never take revenge because whenever he tried, she would do something else to make him wonder how exactly he would ever take a perfect revenge against her.

The sauce sizzled, hissing like a snake, when Rushali took a bunch of chopped vegetables and threw it on the pan. Rushali shook her head with a hopeless expression when he didn’t say anything for a long time, and turned her head back to the pan. She covered the sauce pan with a lid and wiped her palms against her red and white checkered apron. 

“I could never forget it Rushali,” he said finally. “I did not expect it, especially from you. You know?”

Rushali bent down and pulled out some onions from the vegetable basket under the kitchen counter, and started chopping them with great vehemence. She felt a pang of guilt rising in her chest. She hated that feeling.

“I wanted to forget it, everything,” he continued, his voice, calm, as if he was narrating a story. “But it looks like you can’t forget it. And, by the way, as far as I can remember, you were the one who said things about me, so I guess I should be angry with you. No?”

The pace of her knife slowly increased, chopping the onions into thin slices, also marking the chopping board with scratches, with speed. Tak tak tak. It sounded like a lady walking on heels.

She looked up at him with teary eyes. The onions did the trick.

“You’ve always felt how much I’ve hurt you but, for one moment, have you ever wondered how much my mistakes have hurt me?” She sobbed, the spiciness of onions irritating her eyes. She could see tears in Neer’s eyes too. Onions. “How lonely and hateful I felt for myself for saying those words you didn’t even deserve. How regretful I felt?” Tak tak tak. She looked back and forth from Neer to the chopping board simultaneously. “I was trying my best to rectify it all, but you were a coward to even look into my eyes and accept an apology.” She wiped her nose with the back of the hand which was holding the knife. Tak tak tak tak tak. She looked up, still chopping the onions like a pro, secretly surprising Neer that she hadn’t yet cut her hand. “Because you, mister, that’s the only thing you are- a coward.” Tak Tak ta-

“Aw!” she shrieked, pulling up her bleeding finger. She sucked the cut and pulled it out. Still bleeding.

“Here,” Neer softly grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards the sink. He turned on the tap. “Wash it.”

She jerked her hand back and looked back at him. “I can do it on my own,” she snapped.

Neer shrugged and turned around to the shelf beside the sink. He opened it up, looked up at several bottles of medicines standing orderly. “Do you have a band-aid in here?”

“Top corner,” she pointed.

He swiped his fingers in the shelf and found the band-aids, with some cotton. He took out a bottle of Dettol, dabbing a few drops of it on the cotton.

Gently, he took her hand but she pulled it back away from his reach. “Shelly,” he said, authoritatively. He grabbed her hand back and softly pressed the cotton against the cut at the tip of her finger. This time she didn’t pull away because she knew the attempt would have been futile. His thumb caressed her hand; her hand shivered under his breath as he blew on it.  

Rushali tried to pull away from his restraining hand but in vain. His grip was tight enough to hold her till he finished strapping the band aid carefully around her finger over the cotton he placed on the cut. After retrieving her hand back, she rubbed her wrist where Neer’s tight grip made faint red marks on her skin.

“Look what you did,” she said holding up her wrist, her eyes widening with anger.

“You’re welcome,” he sighed and leaned against the medicine cupboard. “Look, I am not here to fight with you again. Your parents invited us and I was eager to meet you all.”

Rushali glared back at him. “If you were so eager-

“Let me speak for God’s sake!” he said, exasperated. Rushali jolted by the sudden anger in his voice. He paused and took a deep breath before he spoke again. “Don’t you think two years has been a long time to actually leave behind the past? I don’t want to tame it and push myself with it to see how far I could go like that. I am over that faze of anger, betrayal or whatever feelings that incident induced in me- I am over it. The past isn’t my pet, it’s a stray animal- the more I bring it in front of me, the more closer it gets; the more I try to push it away, the more farther it is, and the more happy I am.

“I had as much hard time as you did and I knew you were having a hard time, I have known you for years. But for God’s sake- we were kids! That was two years ago. I still don’t know why you said those things, you knew me as much as I know you, and I know a lot about you than any other person here. I don’t want to know your reason for saying those things rather I would love to know if the reason was plausible...”

It was- very. She thought.

He stepped closer and lifted her chin up to meet her eyes which were scrolling down on the floor the whole time. Her greenish eyes, afraid to meet his gaze, finally looked up at his cloudy ones.

“But right now I don’t care about that. I want my friend back. I want you back. Two years was enough to change me, and I have, but the thing that hasn’t changed yet is my willingness to be your friend which I had in me since the day we held our pinkies and called each other BFFs although it was just because you offered me the cake your mum gave you in your lunch box, hoping you would offer more if we became friends.”

Rushali laughed at that, him joining her. “You’re so selfish!” She laughed, playfully smacking his arm.

“Call yourself selfish because you didn’t agree to hold out your pinky promise for nothing.  I know you wanted to play with Jai’s Ninja Turtle action figures. I saw you go all googly eyes on them.”

Her mouth opened wide with shock. “I did not!

Neer grinned ear to ear. “Yes you did, don’t you deny it.”

She laughed and stepped towards the pan, throwing in the chopped onions with her good hand. “Honestly, I didn’t like to use the Ninja Turtles to make them fight as much as I enjoyed making them my Barbie’s dancing partner.”

Neer laughed reminiscently, leaning on the counter beside her. “You didn’t spare anyone. Once you made me Jai and your mother when we were playing house and you made me wear your mum’s nightgown, which was too big for me at that time, and your fancy rubber bands tying my hair.” He shook his head, grinning. “That was really embarrassing.”

“You looked amazing in those things, don’t deny it.” She laughed louder this time; her lips spreading wider on her face, her perfect teeth flashing underneath. “And Jai looked absolutely perfect as my baby sister, wearing my pink frock and tiara, with a bib around his neck.”

Neer slowly shook his head, still laughing. “I never understood why you made us do a dress up and why we agreed to it.”

“I did it because I loved making you both dress up. You guys looked ravishing in dresses. And you agreed to it because there wasn’t any other option- either I would have dressed you up or I would have dressed you up. You guys. Had no choice.”

 He smiled, his calmness breaking down the wall of restrained anger he felt a few minutes back. “You see? I wanted this back. This whole friendship of ours. It’s been two years and we’re still talking like we just last met yesterday. Please throw away what happened out of your mind. Okay?”

Rushali hesitated. Throwing away what happened isn’t going to help. She wanted to say that but refrained. Maybe Neer was right about forgetting whatever happened.

But what she saw the other day...

“Rushali, okay?” He said turning her towards him by her shoulders. His eyes looked intently into hers.

She laughed today although only for a minute but in that little duration, she found herself as if she was lost before his voice founded her again. When she left Regalia, she decided that she would start with a new journey, a new path. She was so used to her own company in the journey that she didn’t even realise when she got lost.  

She was laughing for a minute. But she found herself in that minute.

“Okay,” she whispered, and forced a smile. 

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