Chapter 2

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For Amma. Thank you for encouraging me to do the stuff I love, and learning to love it in your own, little way. I love you, Maa.

*****

(TW: Gaslighting)

The mid afternoon, scathing hot sun streamed the corners of Dhriti's modest bedroom, the bright yellowness dazzling onto the misty blue walls, filling in a couple of neat corners, and falling loose over the hotchpotch of books consciously arranged in short stacks along the wall at the head side of the cot.

Dhriti's chunky calf rested over the unrobed other leg, while her arms hugged the pillow to her flabby face, her mouth squished against the softness of her pillow. The back of her sloppy tank top and the bed sheet had gone astray because she'd tossed around to finally be able to sleep. Beside her, stretching her tiny, chubby body, reposing was Kabaddi, in the middle of her post-lunch nap.

In the deep rooted stillness, Dhriti's phone lit up, rumbling and dancing gently to the vibration against the crumpled cotton sheets of her bed.

Absolutely rattled at the call uncalled-for, she ran a baffled hand down her face, grunting, as she tossed to her back, grabbing her phone, bothering herself to open her eyes.

Squinching at the display with least brightness she'd adjusted on her phone earlier, Shreyas's very oval face flashed, shrouded with a beard on half of his face that looked back at her, with a smug-looking, one-sided grin.

Dhriti swiped the call and put it in her ears.

"Hey, babe!" Shreyas's greeting came out in his deep throated voice. "What are you doing?"

Dhriti brushed her faux bangs and thick locks of her curls that fell on her forehead, away with a sweep of her palm. "Hey," she greeted him back gently, in her sleep-hooded, gruff voice. "I was taking a nap. Your call kinda woke me up."

"Oh damn!" Shreyas laughed. "You don't take mid-day naps, so I thought I was good to call at this time of the day. And it's been a week, we have spoken properly," he said, a longing catch to his voice towards the end.

Although, there wasn't any longing that Dhriti could sense in her chest, for his being away from her. And for an instant, the feeling of shame needled at her heart for not feeling the same way as what she'd perceived with the tone of his voice.

Trying to slacken herself from it, Dhriti asked, folding her legs into a bump, "So, how are you doing?"

"I am good," he muttered, with a leak of the sound of his breath, as if he'd plonked down somewhere. "Mum and Dad are happy that I am here. Planning to spend one more week at home," his nonchalance was exceeded by haste, "oh, by the way, I did call you to tell you that—I was supposed to leave by tonight but I am not."

"That's nice," she replied offhandedly, as her eyes were aimlessly staring at her ceiling fan and her free index finger twiddling with a thick lock of hair. "You should spend more time with them, then," she gave out, what she genuinely felt about the idea.

Her parents weren't like that—they'd never yearned to spend more time with her or her sister—and probably, never would.

Dhriti expected herself to be feeling a bit sad about it, but the feeling of staying plain and stoic to it was strange—and kind of scary. Was she becoming her mum?

A whoosh of wind jetted over in a rustle, as Shreyas's response came over. "Yep, that's what I am going to do. What are you upto?"

"Hmm." Dhriti hesitated for a moment. She thought he knew what she was up to—she'd shown him, sent him what she'd been upping to. It was the column she'd written for the weekend's issue of a newspaper—that she'd sent to him after her editor's approval and it'd have been nice if he'd made an effort to read it, and said anything about it. He mightn't have had the time to read, especially when his parents were ready to pamper him twenty four by seven—it just reeled in her mind as follow up to her previous whine-y thought.

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