That night, Neeta brought Pari to Bella once again for feeding. This time she stayed to help Bella with Pari. Rehan had brought a feeding pillow for Bella and that made things very easy for her. Neeta helped Bella balance Pari on the pillow. Once she was well fed, Pari drifted off to sleep. Neeta insisted on leaving Pari with Bella and Mahir so that Bella could feed Pari if she needed to. Bella settled on the bed with Pari by her side. Mahir settled on the sofa with his cloth at the ready.
Bella: Mahir till when...
Mahir: For life Bella. I can't stop myself from dreaming about that night. And I... I don't think I ever want to.
Bella: What? Why do you say that Mahir?
Mahir: It reminds me of what I am capable of... You don't bother. You have been sleeping quite peacefully for past few days.
Bella: Yes. I guess the dreams were because of the pregnancy. Apparently you get really vivid dreams during pregnancy...
She trailed off. She knew that was only one part of the reason. Yes pregnancy made the dreams more vivid but pregnancy was not the reason why she was getting those dreams in first place. Last few days she was getting a different dream where Mahir was the monster but he was also the saviour. She had suddenly begun to feel comfortable in Mahir's presence. More than comfortable she felt safe when he was around which she has never felt before. And that made her think that something had changed between them. Mahir's changed behaviour and care had done what doctor's medicines had failed to do. She was finally ready to look forward to life. And now she knew it was in her hands to do the same to Mahir.
She did not argue that day knowing fully well that she would have to be very patient with Mahir. She would have to get him to open up to her slowly. They had had such conversations before and she knew of his childhood history. The family members were also beginning to accept him back. One thing was certain. His need for validation had not reduced. He still needed to be told that he was doing great. She had thought of him a sure and self confident boy. But far from being that he was someone who was constantly seeking validation from others. And past few months his efforts had gone unacknowledged. She was so wrapped up in her sorrow that she had failed to see the extent of his suffering. But now she planned to change that. She would make sure that no matter what she would bring him out of the darkness that he himself had cast over his life.
And hence the journey began. Neeta had noticed that Pari was most comfortable around Bella for some reasons. Also, Bella and Mahir were doing great as parents and being around Pari was healing them both form their tragic loss. Rehan and Kuhu also kept a certain distance from them when they were bonding over Pari. Elders rarely interfered with them anymore. As ironic as it may sound, Bella and Mahir were perfect for each other. Each balancing out the other's weakness. Mahir would stay up during the nights just to ensure that Pari and Bella slept comfortably. Bella's world revolved around Pari and Mahir's world revolved around the two of them.
Bella was careful to keep Pari with Neeta most of the time as Neeta was her mother, but since Neeta was still attending college, Pari would stay with BeHir while Neeta was away at college. Without any discussion Pari was taught to call Bella, Neeta and Kuhu ma. And Rehan and Mahir were Papa. Pari had a gala time playing around the house and being pampered.
Bella had now begun to acknowledge Mahir's efforts with Pari, praising him no end for being so good at managing the kids. Pari would crawl and sit when she first came to Sehgal House. Now she had slowly begun to attempt to stand and there were many instances when she would fall because of the failed attempts. Mahir would constantly hover over her to ensure that she doesn't fall. That scene would remind the elders of days when Mahir hovered protectively around Bella when she was learning to walk. Sumitra had slowly begun to tell tales of their childhood to Mahir and Bella. Tales of how Mahir played with her and protected her. Bella had begun to dream of recreating the childhood bond between the two of them. She had slowly begun to consider Mahir as her friend.
Mahir would help her with Pari's bath, her feeding, changing her diapers, shopping for her clothes. Pari was their daughter and they would look after her. Pari's growth was a bit stunted. Physically she was fine but mentally she should have begun speaking some words by now but that was not happening. So everyone focused on speaking with her whenever they were with her. That way Pari heard a lot of words and tried to imitate them. Soon she had begun saying ma, pa and other such easy words. Whenever she spoke in her baby tongue, everyone would be delighted. They had also begun to introduce her to solid food slowly. But still she would need to feed when she went to sleep. So Pari would spend her nights in BeHir's room.
One such night she was giving a lot of trouble. She had slept in the evening and hence her sleeping pattern had been disturbed. Neeta was not feeling well that day and Rehan and Kuhu were out of town for a couple of days. BeHir insisted that Sumitra and Gayatri go off to sleep.
Bella: Pari! You are a good girl right? Then go to sleep my baccha.
Mahir: Pari... My angel!!! Come to papa... papa will sing a song for you.
Bella was sitting on bed with Pari who was busy playing with her toys. She had inherited one trait from her biological mother. She would give sharp looks when things did not happen her way. Vish had the ability to make her disapproval known with just one stare. Presently Mahir started singing
Mahir: Chanda hai tu mera sooraj hai tu
Ha mere aakhonka tara hai tu...
She gave him such a glare that he stopped immediately. Bella giggled.
Bella: You sing horribly Mahir. At this rate she will never sleep.
Mahir came and hesitantly sat on the bed. He generally avoided sitting on the bed with Bella.
Mahir: Let's see you try then. Come my angel. Let's see how well your Bella ma can sing.
He pulled Pari onto his lap and she went willingly.
Bella: I am not going to sing. My voice is no better than yours. Do you know what we will do? We will play. What say?
They continued to play with Pari for a long time. Eventually tired out, Pari's eyelids began to droop. Bella immediately took her on her lap to feed her. Pari would generally drop off to sleep while feeding. Mahir went shut off the lights and soon Pari dropped off to sleep. Mahir placed Pari in her cradle and Bella went to the bathroom to clean herself a bit and when she came out, she saw Mahir ready for bed with a cloth around his mouth. She went and grabbed his hand and pulled him to the bathroom and went and sat on the bathtub's ledge. She patted the space beside her and Mahir joined her.
Bella: Mahir, you need help. Trust me. You do.
Mahir: Don't bother Bella. I deserve this. Let me be.
Bella: No one deserves this Mahir. Come with me to the counsellor. Please. We will do this together.
Mahir: NO! I will not pull you back into the darkness. I will deal with this alone...
Bella: There is one thing which I have never told you Mahir. I never acknowledged it before but whatever I am today, it is because of you.
Mahir: I know. I have brought about this situation in your life. It was my lusty and lecherous behaviour that destroyed your life. I failed to protect you when Vikrant came to take you away. I couldn't save our child... I blame myself for your condition Bella. It hurts whenever Ma describes our childhood. I was supposed to protect you for life. And look at what I ended up doing? I destroyed the very girl I was supposed to cherish for life. No curse would be horrible enough for me. I curse my very existence everyday Bella...
He stopped suddenly as Bella had grabbed his face roughly. Her eyes were shining with tears as she looked at him.
Bella: Now you just listen to me Mahir. No! Don't look away. Look into my eyes. I want to you look into my eyes when I say this. Yes you destroyed my life. Yes you were supposed to cherish me for life and you ended up crumpling me under your feet. Yes what you did that night was something horrifying and you should not have done that. You should have protected me and instead you hurt me. Yes you are a monster Mahir. But do you know that for me you are my angel too? YOU saved me from that place. It was you who led Rehan to me. YOU saved Neeta as well and Neeta ended up rescuing Pari. That means you indirectly saved Pari as well. You cared for me during my pregnancy. There was no need to do that. I hurt you, taunted you, never acknowledged your efforts but that never deterred you from caring for me and our baby. I know you did all of that because you felt guilty but guilty or not, Mahir you healed me in the process.
Mahir: Come on Bella applying salve on the wounds that I myself had inflicted is not something great.
Bella: On the contrary Mahir it is praiseworthy. To try and heal something that you yourself broke requires tremendous amounts of guts. You could have refused to marry me. I would have appealed to a higher court. You were already feeling guilty. So you would have confessed and that would have been that. You going to jail would not have healed me Mahir. But instead you chose to marry me, despite knowing that you will have to see the wounds that you yourself had so brutally inflicted upon me. You knew that choosing to marry me would mean having to face the hatred of every single person of the house. You chose the difficult path Mahir and I am proud of you. Mahir trying to heal someone or something who was mangled by someone else is gratifying. It makes you feel good about yourself. But choosing to heal the person who you have mangled, to apply salve on the same wounds that you have inflicted without balking is a brave thing to do. I never said it out loud because it did not want to admit even to myself that you were indeed a good guy under the lusty exterior. But that does not mean that I failed to notice that. To see yourself as a monster, to know that seeing the person would always remind you that you are a monster and still trying to help that person is commendable Mahir. I salute you for that. See you were wrong. But you have changed. You would never do the same with anyone else. That counts, right? You healed me Mahir. I can sleep peacefully now. I feel safe when you are around. Now it's my turn. You don't deserve this life Mahir. You deserve to sleep peacefully. We are going to a counsellor tomorrow.
Mahir nodded his head meekly.
Bella: Tell me one thing. Do you remember the first time I saw you having a nightmare? A couple of days before we found out that I was pregnant?
Mahir: Yes. You had come to my room and I was very surprised that though you hated me then, you did not fail to notice that my hand had begun to bleed once again.
Bella: I remember involuntarily stroking your head to soothe you down. You had calmed down some under my touch. Do you think my touch will help you sleep a bit easy?
Mahir: I don't know. Maybe...
Bella silently took his hand and led him to the bed. Mahir followed her puzzled. She sat on the bed and patted the pillow besides her. Mahir looked on puzzled. She shook her head and pulled him onto the bed and made him place his on the pillow and proceeded to stroke his head.
Mahir: Don't bother yourself with that Bella. I know I still disgust you and...
Bella: No you don't Mahir. I don't know what I feel for you anymore. I certainly don't hate you anymore. Nor do I love you. I am maybe beginning to get comfortable around you? I don't know. But one thing is certain, I want to help you in every possible way.
Just then Pari woke up and began crying. Bella got down on her knees beside the cradle and began stroking her head to sooth her. Within minutes Pari was fast asleep. Bella went back to where Mahir lying down and leaned against the bed frame in a comfortable position and placed a hand n his head. She began to lightly pat his head like she would do with Pari and within minutes Mahir was fast asleep. She continued to stroke his head for some more time. When she was sure that he was fast asleep, she tried to get down only to find that Mahir had put out a hand was hugging her tightly. She closed her eyes tightly and waited for the dread, the disgust to come to her at Mahir for touching her so intimately. But none came. The only emotion that she felt was calmness at the sight of Mahir sleeping peacefully under the influence of her touch. She smiled at Pari and then at Mahir. Whane Mahir loosened his grip, she got up and went to the sofa to sleep.
The next day on Bella's insistence, Mahir visited a counsellor and thus his treatment began. Sometimes he would insist that Bella should wait with him. During those sessions Bella tried to hear his story from a third person perspective. She tried to forget that she was the girl from the story. Mahir was still sleeping fitfully at night, but the medicines were helping him slowly but surely. Bella was careful to never cringe away from him if at all he came near her. He would not do that but still. Slowly they both were growing comfortable in each other's presence. Pari was acting as the cement that bonded them together. Vishakha had requested that Pari be never brought to meet her as she did not want Pari near the jail under any circumstances. But Neeta had promised to inform her of Pari's progress from time to time.
Soon it was the time to meet Vish in the jail. Bella insisted on accompanying Neeta. Everyone was a bit sceptical about this, but Rehan supported her. Bella was very nervous about meeting Vish but she had made up her mind. She needed a closure to move ahead. Rehan and Neeta held her hand as they waited for Vish to be led out. When Vish was finally led out them, they saw that she had gone thin, her collar bones were sticking out and her skin had lost its glow. It now looked grey and unhealthy. Her eyes widened when she saw Bella and her skin lost what little colour that was left. She stumbled and the person leading her roughly pushed. Bella was feeling bad at her condition but then such were the conditions inside the jails.
As soon as they were alone,
Vish: What are you doing here Vibha?
Neeta: She is with me. I was rescued from that place the same day as you were arrested. In a way even she has adopted Pari.
Rehan: I will leave you three alone.
Bella: Vish, she is fine. Pari is alright. You never let me near her. Your precious daughter, but look at how karma plays her game. Pari calls me Ma. I breastfeed her each night. I am connected to her by a bond that is far stronger than any physical bond. It is the bond of sweat, blood and milk. She is with me at nights. In a way I am glad that she is no longer with you. With the help of my family and husband I will make her a better human being far better than her parents.
Neeta: I promised you to show her photographs. So here they are.
She showed her Pari's photographs with the family members. There was also a video where Mahir was playing with Pari and Bella was scolding them for troubling her as she attempted to work in the kitchen. When Mahir said, your Bella ma, loves to scold you papa, Vish looked up shocked.
Vish: So now a rapist will help his victim make my daughter a better human being? (She said this is a scathing voice)
Bella: Vish I get your tone. But Mahir is a changed man now. And anyways it's none of your business.
Vish: Look at you. Still so weak that you ended up marrying your own rapist.
Neeta: If she was weak, she would not be feeding MY daughter given that Pari unfortunately came out the womb of the same woman who pushed Bella into prostitution. She offered to give Pari what I never could. Despite having lost her own daughter just a few days ago, she fed Pari like her own. She has it in her to love Pari, despite Pari being your and Vikrant's daughter.
Vish: You hid this from me.
Neeta: I owed you nothing. The authorities knew who all were going to be a part of Pari's family. Now see the photos quickly or else you will not get to see anything for the next three months. And it's her birthday soon. Anything in particular you want me to get for her?
Vish: No. I just have a request. Next time you come, can you please bring a physical copy of one of the photographs? If the jailer allows that is. And I suppose I should thank you for being there for my daughter when I am not.
Bella: I am not doing this for you. Pari deserves all the love and happiness. And yes I do know what a life of misery and neglect looks like. I will never want it inflicted on anyone else. We have to leave now. The time is almost up.
Just then the jailer entered and led Vish back to her cell. Neeta and Bella started back with Rehan.
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