Nobody believed that a human could scream in such a piercing tone.
She kept screaming while the bystanders simply watched her scream. They didn’t know what to do- or more appropriately said, they intentionally abstained themselves from acting. No one wanted to get involved in any police matter, so they just watched with serious expressions on their faces.
She continued crying in terrible pain. Someone had just hurled acid on her face. Everything went dark before her eyes- the only thing left was a dreadful pain.
Around 10-15 minutes passed, police had arrived with the ambulance. The mob also gathered around the scene. Some made judgments of what might have led to this brutal incident while some just passed.
The police officials loaded her into the ambulance and drove off to AIMS. But her screams were still in the air.
In one 4/4 cubicle of a plush office, Rishaan was submerged into his desk to wrap up the work as fast as he could. In between, he anxiously looked at his watch again and again. He had promised to meet one ‘old friend’ along with his girlfriend and the time fixed for the meet had just passed. But he was relieved as he did not receive any call from his ‘old friend’ or his girlfriend. For the first time, he praised the Delhi NCR traffic for making his ‘old friend’ late or else he would have had it from her. He didn’t bother to call and hurriedly tried to finish the work before the call comes.
The other employees had gathered before the LED Screen hung from the office ceiling. There was incessant whispering among the employees over the flashing news.
“Delhi witnesses another brutal crime against women- Acid attack in posh South Delhi” – The news flashed again and again on all the news channels.
Rishaan noticed the gathering but ignored until the phone rang. His eyes glittered and his hands rushed towards the phone.
“Hello, Who’s speaking?” a heavy voice in Haryanvi tone came from the other end.
Rishaan was surprised as it wasn’t the voice he expected. He gave a squinted look at the phone screen to confirm but it displayed his ‘old friend’s’ name.
“This is Rishaan here. But who are you, this phone belongs to my friend…...!!!” replied Rishaan in a distressing tone.
“Diya, we checked her ID. I’m speaking from South Ex Police Station. Someone threw acid on her, she is currently in AIMS Trauma Center” replied the Haryanvi accent police personnel from the other end before Rishaan could complete his sentence. His voice was emotionless as if he was trained to disseminate such news.
Rishaan was stunned. Eyes turned red and wet. He looked to the LED screen. The news was all over. But he was unable to gulp down the truth that Diya was the victim. He quickly grabbed his car keys and rushed outwards.
The news had spread faster than the forest fire. There was protest all around the AIMS Hospital. The dish mounted vans, camera, police vehicles, white ambassadors all had marked their presence. Some protestors clamouring over women safety issues had also gathered around the hospital. The hospital turned into the focal point of never-ending VIP movement and reporting.
Rishaan and his girlfriend Kiara, jostled their way to reach the hospital. They had to undergo numerous rounds of security checks and explanations to reach Diya. She was kept in an isolated ward due to the media attention this case had attracted.
There was complete silence except for some whispering here and there.
Rishaan hands shivered while he walked towards the ward where Diya was kept. The ward door was closed but the inside was visible. The doctors and numerous machines had circled Diya. Rishaan could only see lower half but not the face. He moved his head over the door glass to get a sneak at the other half of Diya.
Her face was all covered in the layers of bandages. Her adorable face and smiling gestures—all were missing. It was emotionless, expressionless—only plain white bandages.
Tears were on the brim waiting to roll down any moment. But Kiara came to rescue. She hugged her to pacify him. She was well aware of his close friendship with Diya. Their friendship defied all the Bollywood logics that a girl and guy cannot be ‘only friends’. She had known Diya’s as a personality from Rishaan’s numerous anecdotes but never met her in person.
Rishaan didn’t spoke a word and kept staring Diya through the glass window.
It was not only her face that got disfigured in the acid attack. The attack demolished her entire personality and aura. The first time she looked in the mirror after the attacks sent shivers throughout her body. She was terrified of herself. She buried herself in her house as if she was the culprit for what had happened.
Rishaan and Kiara tried their hard to meet her for last three months and she persistently refused. He dropped down to her house several times, but she would not come out. Rishaan had not seen her new look and she didn’t want to show either. She feared getting the same weird reaction that others had given.
Ever since she had come home after the attacks, the reaction of the relatives, friends, neighbours had turned bizarre. Their piercing looks and the facial expressions with numerous questions made her uncomfortable. They boycotted her with their eyes and body languages. Her friends who used to flock around her before gradually started diminishing and ultimately vanished – except for Rishaan.
She too eagerly wanted to meet Rishaan but didn’t have the strength to face her with her new disfigured look. But Rishaan kept trying.
On one final day, she had to give up to the persistent efforts of Rishaan. She opened the doors and came out in front of him.
Her radiant skin which Rishaan praised since school days had turned red due to burns. Her nose, eyelids, ears, cheeks, lips had lost their features, it had turned into flat red skin. The plastic surgeries had left their mark all over.
Rishaan gazed at her. He walked towards her…closer…little more closer and spanked on her back as he used to in college.
“Dramebaaz, What’s your problem? I think you have been too busy to give time to your old friends,” he said in teasing tone. He smiled as if nothing had happened.
Diya was startled at her response. He expected to be another conversation around the incident. She didn’t know how to respond. She remained silent for few moments to gather words to respond.
“How can I be? You know what happ…...!!!” she replied in an upsetting tone.
“So? It’s not your fault. Why are you ashamed of it? Why have you changed your life?” said Rishaan before she could complete her reply. He kept his hand over her shoulders while he said this.
She didn’t have any answers. She was a strong girl, but the incident had broken her physically and mentally. She just could not fathom the strange response from the people around her. But Rishaan words gave her strength. She realised that she was a victim not the culprit. Rishaan word pierced her from inside and gave life to “Diya” before the attack- a strong, bold and righteous Diya.
She looked directly in Rishaan’s eyes. His expressions had not changed. It was same as it was before the attack.
She hugged him tightly. She had not done this ever before, but this time, she could not stop herself. It was strange for Rishaan too. But he too embraced her affectionately considering the circumstances.
They had been friends for years but this hug had sparked something—something not to be expressed in words, a strange feeling which never occurred before.
Suddenly, some thoughts pondered Diya’s mind and she separated herself.
She diverted the attention to other topics. For the first time after the attacks, she behaved like normal. She was happy and smiling—all because of Rishaan. They sat down and talked for hours like old times, even ordered pizza like old times and fought for the last piece like old times. She was regaining her lost personality and aura. Her mournful house was listening to her chuckles for the first time after the incident.
Finally, Rishaan left. His eyes were wet throughout his way back home. He had been hiding his tears throughout the evening but ultimately they made their way. Diya too had noticed this but she chose not to speak about it.
The meetings between Diya and Rishaan increased in the coming days. She was returning to normalcy.
But somewhere Kiara was getting uneasy with this newly found relationship between the two. Rishaan had completely ignored. He didn’t have time to meet, talk or spend time with her and this was making Kiara uncomfortable. It felt to her as if she was losing him and she really loved her. She abstained speaking about it because of Diya’s condition. She apprehended that Rishaan might take it in another way. But she had to do something to save their dwindling relation.
Finally, after a month they met. This had never happened in last three years of their relationship.
“So, finally you got time?” taunted Kiara pretending to be miffed.
“You know about Diya; she needs me right now” replied Rishaan directly looking in her eyes.
“Yeah, I understand. But I need your time too. We had not talked or met in last one month. Is this alright?” questioned Kiara.
“I think we are moving apart,” Kiara said even before Rishaan could speak.
“Shut up…! Have you gone nuts?” spoke Rishaan with a firm tone, but deep down there was guilt.
Kiara eyes popped out at his tone which reminded him that he was being loud. Rishaan too realised it. He knew he had to make up to Kiara now.
“So, what should I do makeup to you?” asked Rishaan- politely this time.
“Let's see, what you can do to make up?” replied Kiara in a naughty tone. Her apprehensions were slowly coming to rest.
“Hmmm…. Let’s go to Goa for the weekend….” Rishaan spoke candidly. Kiara eyes glittered with the reply and her lips spread with a cute smile.
“And, we will take Diya along with her. She will also get some change. You know what she had been through” Rishaan completed the sentence.
The glitter in Kiara eyes faded away. She became a bit awkward and tensed but avoided any argument. Once again Diya's condition came in front of her.
After much persuasion, Diya agreed for Goa trip. She was frightened of people response, but could not refuse Rishaan. Their relation was more than friendship now.
All three boarded the flight to Goa on 27th December.
In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep-starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan's right hand more firmly. Rishaan's other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya's.
Her heart skipped a beat.
Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly.
The changing behavioural dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa.
When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny...his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher.
Kiara eyes said everything. Rishaan knew she saw him grabbing Diya’s hand. He avoided eye contact with Kiara.
On the other hand, Diya was fighting with her entwined emotions inside her. She was unable to comprehend Rishaan gesture in the plane. As a girl, she knew where it was leading to, but was not sure whether this was really happening. On second thought, the presence of Kiara was making her feel guilty. These thoughts also troubled her when she hugged Rishaan at her house.
The silence prevailed in the cab which took them to the hotel. All three came together but acted as passengers. All three were submerged in their entangled emotions trying to find out the way.
When they reached the hotel, Kiara and Rishaan went to their room and Diya left for her.
Rishaan still could not look Kiara into her eyes. He was burning with guilt.
Kiara appeared to be normal but at last broke out in tears.
Rishaan held her hand. She pulled it back. He held it again.
“I’m sorry. Kiara...!!!” Rishaan spoke. His voice was heavy and eyes were numb.
Kiara didn’t look up. She was devoid of words. She was not angry. What she felt at that time does not have any words to describe.
“Do you love me anymore?” she asked a direct question to Rishaan. Rishaan didn’t reply but his expression told everything. He had always loved Kiara, but something had changed in last one month. There was silence among them but it spoke more than words at that moment.
Right at this moment, Diya entered the room. She saw Kiara sobbing and Rishaan sitting on the other end. The air in the room was tensed and she sensed it. She also sensed that somewhere she was the reason for it.
She went close to Kiara in order to apologise. She too was burning in guilt and the words didn’t come out of her mouth. She considered her to be the reason for everything. She was repenting her decision to come to Goa.
But Kiara had decided on something, although, it was difficult for her. Deep down she knew, she had lost Rishaan and she didn’t blame Diya for it. The situation was such. She was angry and upset with Rishaan but in fact, as a woman, she even appreciated for the bold step taken by Rishaan to some extent. Now, it was her time to take the bold step- a mature one.
She ambled towards Diya. Diya noticed her and laid down her eyes on the floor in guilt and shame.
“Rishaan really loves you.” She looked directly into the eyes of Diya when she said this. Diya and Rishaan both were speechless.
“Rishaan, I know you never intended for it. But it has now happened and there’s nothing that can be undone. And Diya needs you more than I do” continued Kiara. She had never acted so mature. She walked out room controlling her tears to come down.
Both Rishaan and Diya stood wordless trying to find an appropriate reaction to the situation. But deep down both were relieved of their guilt. The truth may be bitter but surely gives peace, they realised.
Kiara did something which no one could have done for them.
Once again they hugged. It had changed something last time and everything this time. Rishaan took her hand in his and they both knew they were tied for life. No one uttered a word. Their long friendship and the changing relationships dynamics over last one month evaded the requirement of words to express their feelings.
Kiara was sitting on the beach, looking at the sunset, going through an assortment of feelings in her heart. She felt left out, alone, upset. Even the sun was deserting her for the night.
A few moments later, both her hands felt a bunch of fingers sliding in. It was Diya and Rishaan. She felt a bit pampered. The sunset was the dawn of a new, unconditional and unexplainable bond between them which will continue forever.