Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Daddy

“This is preposterous.” Puneet shouted.

Raima looked at him bored. She had heard all this before and was not interested in any of this.

“You can’t stop me from seeing my son.”

“I’m not the one who made that decision Puneet. Just move on with it.” Raima said yawning.

“You bitch!” Puneet said and ran towards her. Before he could reach her, he stumbled and fell face first.

“You are drunk right now?” Raima said amazed.

“Yeah, so.” Puneet mumbled unable to get up.

Raima looked at him with disgust and left.

Puneet struggled but held the chair and pushed himself up. The door opened and Rahim entered.

“Really! This is how we are supposed to get you the custody of your daughter.” Rahim tried to stablilize Puneet but Puneet pushed him.

“Its all lost anyways.” Puneet mumbled and moved towards the door.

Rahim looked at Puneet and wondered if Puneet should really get Riya’s custody.

“I’m sorry Mr. Puneet. You are an addict. Before you can change your ways, we don’t feel Riya is safe with you. Her custody is being given to her mother Raima.”

“NO!!” Puneet shouted but to no avail.

Raima gave him a look of pure fury, took Riya’s hand and left. Riya looked at her father with tears in her eyes.

“DADDY!”

“DADDY! WHERE’S MY BAG?” Riya shouted at her loudest.

“Coming honey!” Puneet replied running towards her, her bag in her hand. He picked the toast from the plate, took a bite and a swig from his beer.

“Jam.” Riya said as Puneet picked up butter to put on the bread.

“Yes, mam!” Puneet said throwing back the butter and picking up jam.

“And today is my play.”

“I know love. 7 pm. I’ll be there.” Puneet said and put toast in front of Riya.

Riya chewed the toast slowly and swallowed with all the time in the world. Puneet didn’t approve when she tried to speed-eat.

“Not at 7, I want you at 6. I need the dress by then and your help in fitting.”

“Of course, princess. Will be there on time.” Puneet said and kissed Riya on her forehead. He then took her to the bus and came back to the sofa.

The biggest advantage of being a freelancer was that Puneet could work from home and also in flexible times. Puneet had decided to shift from a 9–5 job to a freelance when Riya came into his life. Earlier, he had thought that he might one day regret the decision. He had been so wrong. Every day since had been magical.

Puneet took the beer and finished it off in one go.

“Time to work on the angel dress.” He said and attacked the almost complete white costume.

“Are you sure about this?” Puneet said sipping his whiskey. The single malt was his most prized possession, until some time back. He had opened the bottle six months ago and had savoured every drop of it over the last six months. This peg was the last of it and he had resorted to tiny sips instead of gulps.

“Yes Puneet. I know what I am doing. Just promise me you won’t screw this up for me.” Raima said signing the papers.

“I promise you. I’ll make sure everything is perfect.” Puneet said and held six months old Riya in his hands.

Puneet roared over the phone when he heard the news. He was going to be a father. He and Raima had met a couple of years ago and Puneet had been thinking of proposing to her for the past few months. This news just confirmed that his intentions were right.

“Hello. Puneet. Puneet!! Listen to me. I have yet not decided what to do.” Raima replied from the other side.

Puneet came back to the phone hearing the words.

“What do you mean by that?” Puneet asked.

“Let’s meet tomorrow.” Raima said.

“I can come over right now.” Puneet said taking down a large glass of wine in one gulp.

“No. Not today. I will meet you tomorrow.” Raima insisted.

“Ok.” Puneet said apprehensively.

Puneet spent the day fidgeting. He thought of calling Raima again but he knew it won’t help. Raima was short tempered on a good day and right now, she was facing a new challenge. Puneet knew he needed to give her some space. Yet, the prospect of becoming a father gave him goosebumps.

“I don’t want this child Puneet. I’m sorry but I have too many things to focus on and this would only distract me from my career. I hope you understand.” Raima said in one breath.

Puneet looked at her aghast and then quickly tried to hide his emotions.

“It’s alright Raima. We can have kids in future. It’s not a big deal.” Puneet said with a lump in his throat. He tried to wash it down with his beer.

Raima took a deep breath of relaxation and then braced herself once more. Puneet felt like he was seeing a gun reloading.

“Also, I think we should take some time for ourselves. I… I have gotten a job in Singapore and I’m moving there next week.” Raima shot.

Puneet looked at her unbelievingly and kept staring.

“Say something.” Raima said.

“Bye.” Puneet said and left.

For over a month there was no conversation between Puneet and Raima. Puneet delved deeper into his work with baby-names roaming in his head any time he wasn’t working. Raima had messaged him in the first few days but he didn’t bother with replying them. One day however, he got a call from an international number.

“Hello.” Puneet said in a grogging tone.

“You were asleep. I’m so sorry Puneet. It’s morning here so I called.” Raima replied.

“Raima!” Puneet said shocked.

“I need to talk. Please don’t keep the phone.” Raima said hurriedly.

“Yeah. You are in Singapore?” Puneet said, his voice cracking from thirst. He took a sip from half-filled peg from last night.

“Yeah. I am in Singapore. Puneet. I couldn’t get an abortion.”

“WHAT! You are still pregnant? You decided to keep our baby.” Puneet said, suddenly wide awake.

“Not exactly. The doctors said, I couldn’t have an abortion. Some complications have happened.”

“You still don’t want this baby.” Puneet said in an even tone.

“I don’t. Can you please take care of this?”

“THIS is not a problem Raima. This is our baby.”

“Please Puneet. I am coming back to India for one year for a project. I don’t want to take it back once I am done in India. Can you take it?” Raima pleaded.

“Of course. I would love to.” Puneet said immediately. His spirits had never been higher.