Continued from Dawn: The Charioteer (VII)
Chetan grinned back at her, amused at her glee. She continued blithely.
“Before I could go very far though, the guards found out that I was gone and gave me chase. Fortunately, I found a side gate at the bottom of your garden unlocked and came to the house. By another amazing coincidence, I found a window unlocked and hid myself before the two guards could find me. I came here late evening of the day before yesterday, and have been living here ever since.”
She fell silent and sat looking down sightlessly at their clasped hands. I got the impression that she was waiting for him to say something… as if she had thrown the ball in his court and was curious to see what he’d do with it. Her expectation sat in the cheerful, sun-lit kitchen with them and breathed shallow breaths. He too sat with his head lowered, playing with her fingers distractedly. He scrutinized her hand as if his life depended on his conclusions. I am sure she realized that he wasn’t even aware of what he was doing. It was almost like he was doodling on a piece of paper. She waited, still and silent.
“What will you do now…?” he asked at last.
“I called the college yesterday to confirm my acceptance. The dean told me to report within the next five days to complete the formalities and grab a room at the hostel before the best of them are snatched up. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow and check out the hostel…”
Her voice trailed away uncertainly. I am sure she had no idea how woebegone she looked, a faint frown crinkling up her forehead. He looked at her and grinned. Color flamed in her cheeks she tried to snatch her hand away from his grip. He expected her to do that and tightened his grip. She gave up, frowning fiercely and looking determinedly out of the window. I almost expected flames to issue out of her nostrils, she looked so mortified.
“We will talk about your college plans later. What about your father..? Don’t you think he will create trouble for you? Surely he will find out where you are sooner or later?” Chetan asked, still looking down at their hands.
“I am sure he will hunt me out soon enough, since we live in a small town. I do expect a few tantrums and unpleasant scenes. I suppose I will have to go through them. But I am sure he will get the point sooner or later. I am glad I am not living under the same roof with him, or things would have been a lot more difficult. In any case, I am sure this is a temporary phase with him. I know very well how much he loves me. He will settle down, I am certain of that too. I just need to give him some time to cool off.”
The forced cheeriness in her voice was not able to cover the underlying anxiety and restlessness. Though she was bravely trying to make light of the situation, neither I nor Chetan were fooled. But there was nothing to be done about it at present. Wisely, Chetan did not pursue the point. Instead, he fell silent again. It was obvious that he was deep in a thought of his own. Damini too sensed it I think, for she too kept still and silent. At last Chetan raised his head and looked directly at her.
“Why do you think he did what he did..? Surely he must have known that you aren’t the kind to tolerate domination? Didn’t he know he would alienate you? Why did he treat your love so callously? Wasn’t he afraid of losing you someday- exactly as he has?”
His questions were about her father’s behavior but they were drawn from some hidden recess deep within him. There was the distinct odor of hours of tortured frustration lurking in their syllables. She not only heard the unspoken, she also knew how important it was for him to find an answer to these questions. The ‘knowing’ showed in her eyes. When her words came, they were cautious, as if she was walking on a mist shrouded bridge over an unfathomable chasm. She held his glance, letting it provide her with an anchor and a sense of security.
“I thought about it all day yesterday. I know my father wanted power over me. He felt the only way he could experience that power was by controlling me. Unknowingly, I helped him. Each time I let him have his way, I fed the monster. It must have been a heady feeling for him I suppose, to know that there was one person in the world who loved him so much that she could accept his unreasonableness and dominion just to make him happy. To be the recipient of such a love must have been enough to unseat his reasoning. I am sure there must have come a time when he began to take my love for granted; and assumed that it will always be there, with no effort required on his part.
“I don’t think people realize that love is not an inanimate, static possession like a gold heirloom. A piece of gold might be permanently precious. It would neither wither away, nor die and will remain shining with a cold luster until the end of your days. But you can surely lose it, or have it stolen from you.
“People grant love a tenacity it does not possess. They think that once their apple tree blossoms and bears luscious fruits, they can snipe away at the roots with careless impunity and the tree will continue to bear fruit involuntarily and compulsively. I find it so very blind of them. What is it that they depend upon? Don’t they believe someday the tree will shrug and say- the hell with stupid, go and find yourself another tree! Isn’t that exactly what you told your ex-wife?”
He was shocked- and so was I. Astonishment writ large on his face, he stood up so abruptly that he sent his chair crashing back. He stood looking down at her nonplussed. Though the color mounted in her cheeks again, she met his gaze openly. A slight twitching tremble of her fingers was the only indication that her projected calmness was a mere façade. She sat still, looking up at him unflinchingly.
“I read your diary”, she answering a question he hadn’t asked. He exploded.
“WHAT…!!! How dare you..?!!!”
While her face remained still, one eyebrow twitched involuntarily. I was seriously impressed. The minx dared to pull the tiger’s leg! On second thoughts, cancel the ‘minx’ and replace it with ‘tigress’.
I grinned to myself in glee. This, I knew, was going to be some serious FUN..!!
To be continued… Dawn: The Charioteer (IX)