Paro was already asleep by the time Rudra returned to his bedroom that night, the clock had just ticked 10 minutes past 11. All these rituals, faking marital bliss and constantly having his behaviour watched was suffocating him, he thought getting away from all this and Paro for a while would help hence spent most of the night after dinner on the terrace, alone.
There was faint moonlight coming in through the windows that illuminated Paro's face, she was sleeping peacefully Rudra noticed, contrary to what he had saw earlier when he made her wear the red bangles. He thought there was pain in her eyes and her smile, but he couldn't check on her at the time.
Rudra threw his phone onto the bed intending it to fall by his pillow but it bounced off the mattress onto Paro's wrist. Paro flinched in her sleep, pain causing creases on her forehead, but she remained deep in sleep. Rudra immediately looked to see if she was ok, the light from his phone's screen shone on her wrist revealing the burn. Rudra reached out to look at it, seeing the burn hurt him, he realized this is what had caused her earlier pain, he had pressed her wrist tightly and yet she hadn't flinched or cried in agony.
He looked in the drawer beside the bed to find antiseptic cream to apply on her burn.
"Kis mitti ki bani hai ye ladki," he thought out aloud. She had previously burnt her hands intentionally to get her way, today despite the burn she smiled throughout Kakisa's made up ritual to make sure the social workers thought everything was rosy in their married life. Her head-strong attitude had always impressed him, even when she was standing against him instead of with him.
He gently started applying the antiseptic, she flinched at his touch causing him to be more careful and blow air to ease her discomfort. He admired her for a few moments, replaying memories of Paro. His initial animal-like behaviour towards her earning him the name "Jallad" from her, her unwavering determination to stand for what she believed in at that time, the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw or felt her in pain. It frustrated him beyond anything that she had this effect on him, that she could leave him speechless, she made a difference to him no matter how much he denied it. Pushing these thoughts out of his head, he got under the blanket, cautious not to cause her discomfort.
The following morning Rudra awoke to find Paro sitting up in bed her back to him. Paro had examined her burn which wasn't burning anymore, she faintly smelt the antiseptic. Tilting her head she saw Rudra was sitting up in bed too now. She sat up to face him.
"Dhanya vadh," Paro said, a smile dancing on her lips, no matter what he said, she knew he cared for her and was touched that he had attended to her burn.
"Woh...mere haath pe davai laga ne ke liye," Paro replied with a small smile.
"Jyada khush maat ho...woh auratein dekh na le isliye..." Rudra trailed off clarifying his action, after a couple of moments of silence he put on his mean act and asked rudely, "aajkal dhyaan kahan rehta hai tera, khabhi nashte mein mirchi jyada ho jati hai, khabhi haath jala leti hai-"
Paro cut him off before he could finish, "Nashtein mein mirchi zyada kaise ho gayi paata nahi...sab ne woh hi nashta khaya tha par teekha sirf apko laga...shyaad sirf apke nashte mein mirchi zyada thi...aur ye (she pointed out her burn)...mare ko lagta hai ye shyaad...shayaad..."she hesitated to explain her theory.
"Kya hua? bol," Rudra urged surprising even himself that he was listening to and believing her explanation which made sense, everyone ate breakfast normally as though nothing was wrong.
"Shayaad...kakisa dikhana chahti hai ke mare pe aise atyachar kar rahe ho aap," Paro then went onto explain her theory. Rudra pondered for a moment and it made sense.
"Kakisa ki toh mein," he said furiously turning to leave and confront Kakisa. Paro quickly leapt up and almost ran to catch hold of his hand before he left the room.
"Rukiye!...aap unhe iss baare mein kuch nahi baata sakte," she said firmly.
"Acha, ab tu baata ye gi mujhko kya karna chahiye aur kya nahi," Rudra said angrily.
"Ye hi toh Kakisa chahti hai, aap gusse mein kuch ulta seedha karde..." Paro said desperately wanting to make sure he understood her point. Rudra knew Paro was right, Kakisa wanted him to lose but he wouldn't let her win this.
"Woh dobara tumhe chot poncha ne ki khoshish karegi,"
"Mein abse dhyaan rakhungi," Paro reassured him.
"Rudra! Rudra bana!" Kakusa called outside.
"Paro...haath chod," Rudra said more softly than Paro was used to hearing from him.
"Haath chod" Rudra repeated. Paro realized she was still holding onto his hand tightly, she immediately let go.