She looked around slowly taking the place in. Nothing had changed since the last time she was here. She walked up to the door; the board was still there. ‘Aisha’s Room’ it proclaimed with a note to ‘knock before entering’. Aisha turned back and looked at her desk, everything was in order just like she had left it, nothing had been replaced or moved. She picked up the cuddly Teddy Bear lying on her bed; she had named it Puchku in an inspired moment. A soft smile broke on her face as she remembered how hard she had fought her mom to name her teddy that. “Simpler times”, she thought.

She opened her cupboard to find her old clothes, kept neatly in order. The cupboard had a sweet fresh fragrance, reminding her of her favourite clothes freshener. She remembered her wedding dress, was at the top of the pile to the side. She looked for it and found it missing. Aisha let out a sigh, she was not sure that she wanted to see that lehnga but its absence also told her a lot. Smiling faces greeted her from the photographs up on the wall, her parents, Kavya, Mitul and Aarav; she had put the pictures up to remind her of what mattered to her. Everything was the same yet everything had changed.

The smile on their faces did not make her smile anymore. If anything she was angry. It was as if her life had stopped and she was stuck in a moment and everyone else had moved on. She had noticed the changes around her house. Everything from wall colours to upholstery had changed. And yet her room was untouched. The last six years, had changed everyone’s life around her, but not hers. “Should I be happy about it?” she thought.

Lately she was not sure what she should think. Mitul was gone, and she could not make sense of anything anymore. The more she looked at her old room the angrier she got. She should have been a part of their lives; but here she was struggling to find a place to fit in. She was not even a part of their memories, it was as if they just gave up and moved on without her. They were not even looking for her or waiting for her to come back, that is what Mitul had told her, that is what she saw. Except for this room, it was waiting and trying to tell her something else, showing her how much was held on to.

“Damn! This headache,” she thought as she felt a warm tear roll down her cheeks. Aisha hadn’t even realised that she had begun to cry. She could not stand there anymore, standing in that room just confused her even more. She longed to talk to Mitul, to ask him questions; he was the only one who could separate the truth from lies for her. Yet everyone here told her that he was the one person she could not meet. The door to the room closed suddenly, with the gust of wind that carried the fragrance of the flowers inside. Aisha trembled, and felt the onset of another panic attack.  She ran downstairs to escape, only to come face to face with the two people she did not want to see, at least not yet.

Kavya, was the first to react. Looking at Aisha she did the only thing she could, she hugged her best friend tightly.  No one knew what the past six years had done to Aisha, except Mitul. Kavya did not know what to expect, except that she had been waiting for six years to hug her best friend. Aarav was staring at the two women in front of him not knowing what to do. Both important to his life, one his present and the other his past that he thought was lost to him forever.

Aisha let Kavya lead her into the living room. She saw her parents there. She had refused to meet them when she was brought home. Aisha was not sure how she felt about her parents giving up the search for her. She knew they were told that she did what she did out of her own will. But she never ever thought that they would believe Mitul and blamed them for doing so.

Aisha looked over at Kavya and Aarav. They stood a little apart, which Aisha thought was probably ut of respect for her. Them, she did not blame at all. By the time she had heard of Aarav’s engagement she had given up all hope of ever being found. When her own parents had moved on, how could she blame Aarav, No she could never blame Aarav or Kavya.

When Mitul had taken her she knew something was wrong. He was her best friend and along with Kavya they were like the three musketeers.  That is why she had believed him when he said that Aarav wanted to meet her. Of course he wouldn’t send a message through Kavya, she would never help. That is why she didn’t tell Kavya when she snuck out. That was the decision that changed her entire life. If only she had told someone, if only she had spoken to Aarav. If only…

She kept on waiting for someone to come and find her. She was just 10 minutes away the whole time. And yet, she felt as if everyone was slipping away. She had expected her parents to look for her; she had expected Aarav to not give up. She had faith that she will be found, and one day just like that everything was crushed.

Initially when Mitul told her that no one was looking for her Aisha did not believe him. But slowly it began to become apparent that no one was coming. It was getting harder for Aisha to hold on. That is when Mitul brought the recording. He left her alone as she played it.

“But shouldn’t we at least try to find out where she is?” Mitul was asking

“No, she chose this, let her go, she is dead to me,” the unmistakable voice of her father. He sounded angry, and she could hear her mother’s sobs at the back. She was waiting for her mother to say something but she did not.

“I agree, if this is what she wants Mitul, I think we should let her be,” Aisha had never heard him so broken. Aarav had thought that this was her choice.

“But I did not choose anything” she screamed into the empty room as loud as she could.

Yet no one heard her. That was the moment she lost hope, the moment when she realised no one was looking for her and she was stuck here forever.

Mitul was the one keeping her alive now, the one she depended on for knowing what was happening. The day he brought Aarav and Kavya’s wedding card to her, she was happy that Aarav would not be broken anymore. After all he was marrying her best friend. She should be happy.

And that is how she accepted living with Mitul. And slowly his word became the truth for her. He was the only one who knew what was happening, and right now the only one she was conditioned to trust. And yet he was not here to tell her what to do next. She had not known the entire story of her rescue. All she could remember was the Police barging in and shooting. Mitul held her in front of him, but an officer got into a scuffle with him, and Mitul was shot. That is when she fainted. The Police took both of them to the hospital, from where Mitul was taken into Police Custody.

Aisha still did not understand why Mitul did what he did. He said he loved her, but he made her suffer for years, because that is what was best for her he said. When Aisha had come to her sense n the hospital she had given the staff her name and address. But she had refused to speak to her parents. She refused to talk to anyone, even Aarav and Kavya who had come to meet her. Confused and unsure, she had even requested the Police to take her home earlier today.

“I am sorry”, the first words she heard from her mother in years, “I should have stood my ground. I should not have believed that liar”.

Aisha cringed, not because she believed that Mitul was not a liar, but because she did not know what to believe anymore.

“How could you not know that I would never give up everything like this”, she was surprised at the firmness in her voice. “How could you not know what your own daughter is capable of? How could you believe it was my choice?”

Her father had buried his head in his hands and was crying.

“I owe you an apology too”, Aarav spoke. “Deep down, I knew…” He stopped and looked at Kavya. The look told Aisha all she needed to know.
“We knew” Kavya continued when Aarav stopped “We should have tried.”

“But you would not have gotten far without my parents support. I don’t blame you for anything. In fact I am happy that you found your happiness especially in each other.”

“I do have a favour to ask you, I need a place to stay until I figure out my life. Could I stop over with you for a few days? I will accept no as your answer, because I really don’t know if it is the right thing to ask. But I need to be somewhere else while I sort my life out, while I learn to differentiate between truth and lies again.”



Find the rest of the story in Part 2 and Part 3

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