As soon as Khanak’s mother opens the door, Khanak lets out a groan and Rishav barely control his own cringe at the condition of the boutique. Everything is messy. An open box, full with receipts is lying at the foot of front desk, very few dresses are hanging from the hangers, almost all of the dresses are lying around untidily, just as Khanak as said.
As soon as they enter the shop, the landline connection rings and Khanak’s mother picks it up. From what Rishav could hear, the phone call seems to be about an order that she has to pick up.
“You handle the shop. I will go and get the materials from Sharma Wholesale” Khanak’s mother addresses her daughter.
“They are not sending someone to deliver?” Khanak asks with a frown.
“No, the earliest they can manage a delivery is on Wednesday and I need those materials as soon as possible” Khanak narrows her eyes at her mother, looking at her with suspicion.
“You are not doing this to save yourself from all of this, right?” Khanak asks, making a round with index finger of her right hand, implying the mess around them.
Khanak’s mother sighs and gives her the handset of landline, “You talk to Sharma ji. Then only you will believe me”.
“Okay… okay. Don’t pout! Meanwhile, I will try to organize all this mess you have created in 7 days” Khanak chides her mother and her mother looks sheepishly at Khanak.
Both of them are so busy with each other that they don’t see Rishav praying for her mother to not leave. As soon as Khanak’s mother will leave, Khanak will kick him out of the boutique. Just as Khanak’s mother was about to leave the boutique, Khanak looks at Rishav and smirks evily. “Mom, why don’t you take Rishav with you. The boxes might be heave for you, He will help you, won’t you Rishav?”
All Rishav could do was nod his head unwillingly, and look at Khanak’s mother with pleading eyes. Khanak’s mother just rolls her eyes and shows some pity on him. “No-no! I will take a taxi so you don’t worry” She turns to leave but stops at the last moment “Actually, you know what! You should take his help is cleaning all this mess I made. I feel very bad that you have to clean my mess. So, I insist, okay?” And she goes out but not before winking at both of them, leaving Khanak grumbling and scowling at her mother and Rishav smiling gratefully at her friend’s mother.
“Your mother is so cool” Rishav tries to make small conversation with his angry and grumbling friend but all he gets in reply is a harsh scowl.
After five minutes of standing still like an idiot in the middle of the shop while Khanak was trying to organize the mountain of mess, Rishav couldn’t help but try to help her. But, as soon as he sat beside her to help her, she swatted his hand away. “Don’t touch anything” Khanak said quite harshly, making Rishav wince and then smile regretfully at her.
“I am sorry. I guess, I should just leave” Rishav gets up but Khanak closes her eyes regretfully and holds his hand to stop him from leaving.
“No, I am sorry. I should never behave so rudely” Khanak apologizes but before Rishav could let a real smile come onto his face, she adds “no matter who I am talking to”. Rishav nods, letting out a heavy sigh. It’s physically painful for him to see her behave like this with him. But he knows that he deserves this so he will bear it silently.
Seeing him so sad is making Khanak feel guilty. She really wants to not care about him but people correctly say that old habit dies hard. For so long her world has revolved around her mom and her two friends and just when she has become habitual of not having Rishav in her world, he came back making a mess of every emotion she has organized in this one year and few months. But still, that’s no excuse for her talking to him so rudely. After all, isn’t her anger also telling him that he still affects her. And, if he realizes that she still cares for him, that he still affects her, he will once again take her for granted and she can’t let that happen. She can’t ever go through the same pain again.
“Don’t go. Otherwise my mother will scold me after she has specially asked to let you stay” Khanak says and goes back to her work. “You can take a look at the accounts. Register id in the first left drawer and all the receipts, as you can see, is in that box” She says, gesturing toward the box he has noticed after entering the soap. “Actually, you know what do them in rough then I will update it. There must be some receipts the Mom must have lost. I will have to look for them later on” Happy to be on civil terms with her, he jumps at the prospect of helping her.
After working silently for 15 minutes, Rishav couldn’t suppress the question that has been going on in his head since he watched Khanak’s interaction with her mother, this morning.
“Can I ask you something?” Rishav asks and Khanak looks at him with her eyebrows raised.
“You just did” Khanak teases and chuckles, making Rishav look at her with wonder. It has been so many days since he has made her laugh. When she realizes that he is staring at her, she turns back and asks “Ask but I can’t guarantee an answer”.
“Since when did you become so interested in working in this shop? You always used to grumble about your mother blackmailing you to help her in the shop and since when did Aunty stop wanting you to help her?!” Rishav asks incredulously. He still can’t believe what he is witnessing. For as long as he remembers, Khanak has never wanted to help her mother in boutique. In face khanak has preferred cooking over helping her mother. ‘So, something must have happened’, Rishav thinks to himself and as always, he can’t bear that something has happened in Khanak’s life and he doesn’t know about it.
Khanak lets out a chuckle at his question. “I used to complain a lot, didn’t I?” Khanak’s eyes are looking in space as if remembering a time that has been long gone.
But it hasn’t been long gone. Just last year she was complaining, he thinks to himself. And if Khanak thinks that time as long gone in past then she must think time spent with him also in the past. One year isn’t a long period, he wanted to shout out loud. But he couldn’t. For the first time she is talking normally with him.
“After first year ended, I had a lot of time in my hands as Ankan has gone to Andaman with his brother and few cousins. I started to work here more and more. One day I was coming here for giving my mom her lunch and helping her when I saw some man talking to her rudely. He was asking for the money of his order which according to my mother she has already paid. But due to mom’s clumsy book-keeping, she couldn’t find the receipt then. Before that I had never even thought about managing accounts. Somehow that always seemed like mom’s job. Later we found out that the other man had some miscommunication with his employees.” Khanak was still angry on that man and Rishav could hear that in her voice.
“Although everything was cleared, mom felt so embarrassed that she refused to come to shop for 10 days. Thankfully, next semester hasn’t started by then and Ankan was already back from his trip. Since we were free, we were able to manage the shop for those 10 days. In those 10 days, we updated her books of last two year. I really missed my dad in those 10 days, you know?” Khanak looks at Rishav, expecting to see understanding in his eyes.
Rishav can really understand. That’s the one thing they both have in common. Rishav knows all too well about missing one’s father whenever one feels like one doesn’t have the strength to face the difficulties of one’s life. Rishav nods at her with understanding. “I really wanted Dad to be here. Not for myself but for my mom” Khanak looks in his eyes trying to help him see that she wasn’t trying to be selfish, as if he would judge her. Rishav can never judge her for trying to be happy. After all that’s what he wants the most in this world.
“Mom has been such a pillar for so long and seeing her crumbling after such a small blow left me feeling helpless. I didn’t know what to do. And then I realized that even though my mom looks beautiful and fresh, she is tired, exhausted even. And if I want her to stay happy, I will have to be more mature and take more load.” She finishes with a fake strong smile. Rishav feels like someone is digging a hole in his heart. He can’t believe that she has gone through so much and he wasn’t there for her. He has thought that the hardness in her eyes has because of his behavior but now he realized that in this one year she has learnt a lot of things about life and world. And he would never forgive himself for not being there while she was going through so many changes.
“I am so glad that at least you had Ankan with you” Rishav sits beside her, puts his arm around her shoulder and says sincerely. Rishav really was glad. At least she wasn’t alone while going through an important phase of her life.
Khanak nods and gives him a small smile, “Me too. He has been a huge help”.
Rishav wets his lips and wipes his palm on his jeans, before saying “And I am sorry for not being there when you needed a friend”. Instantly he sees the hardness fell her eyes and she jerks his arm away from her shoulder.
“You don’t need to apologize. Everyone I needed except from my father were here with me” Khanak re-starts organizing the clothes, leaving Rishav to stew in his guilt and regret in silence.
After a long time of sitting there, he goes back to the front desk and starts working on the bill details.