Journey to Vaishno Devi began the next morning. It was 14 km walk, and that too single-sided. Aarush and Radhika decided to walk the entire distance, while his parents were too old to make the journey in one-piece, so Aarush bought them helicopter tickets. His relatives wanted the helicopter ride too, so he shooed them all away by shoving them off in a single copter, while he and Radhika chose to walk and talk!
‘It’s the first time I am coming here.’ Radhika was mesmerized by the mountains and hill-tops.
‘Of course, you are a Jain, and that too from Varanasi, too far away from the Himalayas. Its fine, you will get used to it. My parents visit Vaishno Devi every year! If you really like it, you can come with them.’
‘That’s amazing. Plus it’s a great exercise too. 28 kilometres in one day – you will get fit and fitter!’ Radhika was panting now.
‘Hey, you alright?’
‘Yeah! I think…’ she rested on a nearby platform, while Aarush rushed to the nearest stall to get a water bottle for her.
‘Have some…’ he opened the lid and literally made her drink some water.
‘Why are you so tired suddenly?’
‘Nothing, its just exertion. I haven’t had rigorous exercise in a long time.’
‘If you call sex a rigorous exercise, then darling we have done it just two days ago, back to back!’
‘I know, but then this is walking. Continuous walking. It’s been almost one hour we are walking, and I think we have covered hardly four kilometres.’
‘That means eight more to go, come on buck up!’ Aarush was jumping like he was about to beat Usain Bolt in a marathon.
‘Absolutely, come on husband!’ Radhika pushed herself to walk a little faster this time. Aarush held her hand and helped her climb the steep slopes.
‘Just a little more, and here we are…’ Aarush and Radhika – both started panting once they climbed to the top-most point, where the temple was situated.
‘Wow, there’s just us I think.’ Radhika couldn’t spot many people, although Vaishno Devi is arguably one of the most crowded temples of India.
‘I know, the vacations just got over, this is August going on, and all the schools, colleges and offices are up. We are here at the perfect time, of course we couldn’t find many people.’
‘Thank God! Otherwise, I hate queues and lining up in sweaty summers.’
‘You bet…’ Aarush took his phone out, and made a call to his father.
‘Dad, we have reached the temple. Where are you?’
‘We are in the hotel.’ his father replied.
‘Yeah! We visited temple at 4 pm and came back by 5.’
‘Amazing. What’s the time now, can you tell me?’
‘Yeah son, it’s 06:30 pm.’
‘Okay thanks. I think it will take us another three to five hours to come back.’
‘It’s okay, take your time and concentrate on praying, don’t waste your time on phone!’
‘Okay father…’ no matter how big Aarush had grown, his father never liked the relationship he shared with his phone.
‘Come on, wife…’ Aarush grabbed Radhika’s hand and went inside the temple. They stood there for a good five minutes, prayed and came out.
‘I feel so much at peace.’
‘That’s what you say after visiting every holy place.’
‘I am a religious person now, though I was an atheist before, but your accident…’ Radhika stopped. Only she knew how hard that time was for her as a girlfriend.
‘I know, I know. Come on, let’s have something to eat and then we will continue our journey backward.’
‘Sure.’ Radhika followed Aarush to a small eatery built inside a shack at the hill-top. They served very few varieties, and Aarush ordered the basics – some tea with bread toasts.
‘I think this should be enough for now, we will have something else while our way down.’
‘Of course.’ Radhika started munching at the toasts, while looking at him in intervals.
‘What?’ Aarush questioned her.
‘I am noticing you. Do you want to say something?’ he sipped his hot tea from an earthen-cup.
‘Well…I think so…’ Radhika lowered down her gaze.
‘And why are you hiding it?’ Aarush held her hand in his, and she looked into his eyes.
‘I am not hiding it, I just couldn’t find the perfect place or time to tell you.’
‘What is it?’
‘Come with me…’ Radhika grabbed his arm and took him out of the shack, to in front of the temple.
‘Why are we here again?’ Aarush couldn’t digest the suspense.
‘I am pregnant…’ Radhika revealed the secret she had been hiding since months from him now.
‘What?’ Aarush was puzzled. He couldn’t take it.
‘Since when?’ he asked her in amazement.
‘Before our marriage!
‘The day you had your accident. I…’
‘And why didn’t you tell me?’
‘I was…’ Radhika broke down in his arms.
‘I need to tell you the entire thing. From the beginning.’ Radhika wiped her tears.
‘Then start! What are you waiting for?’
‘Aarush, the day you had your accident, a week before that I had missed my period, and I doubted that I might be pregnant, but I was sure I could not be. I mean, we always used protection. But the day you asked me to meet you in the Intercontinental, I took a home-pregnancy test thrice, and every time it was positive, and I wanted to tell you that day about my pregnancy, but you had different plans. You proposed to me that day, and I couldn’t say yes because otherwise you would have thought that maybe I am saying yes to you just for the baby…’
‘What the hell is this?’
‘Aarush, I knew you would not understand a thing, but try to think from my point of view and maybe you know why I did what I did.’ Radhika was trying to assure him.
‘Okay, go ahead…’
‘And the next day, early in the morning you had that terrible accident. After which I found out about Koel and how she killed your first baby. I was more scared to tell you about this pregnancy, that none of us planned or wanted. The day you revealed everything about your relationship with Koel, was the day I found out the truth, that it was not you who didn’t want the baby, but Koel who had a miscarriage that led to your breakup too.’
‘Hmm…’ Aarush was slowly reminded of every bitter memory of his past that he wanted to let go.
‘And after that, you asked me to marry you, our families were involved, and before I could talk to you about my pregnancy, we were married.’
‘Did you get a medical check-up? I mean, how can you rely on those home-tests?’
‘I know, and I got a medical check-up, the day before our wedding. I took Koel along, who knew about this. That’s the reason I even invited her to our wedding.’
‘What the hell? You told Koel about it, but not your own husband?’
‘I wanted time, space and peace to talk to you, I couldn’t just tell you, its a big thing, I mean…’
‘Okay, okay…go on…’
‘After that we got married, and you know how rushed up things have been since marriage. I didn’t want you to know about it on our first night, I mean, it’s special for both of us. That’s the reason I am so tired and exhausted since our marriage. Last night doctor Shashank mailed me my pregnancy report. I called him past midnight, and he confirmed it. I am two and a half months pregnant, and that means my first trimester is going to end in just two weeks. In another six months we will be parents, only if you want this baby. I mean, it’s just the third month going on now, we can abort it if you…’
‘Shut up, Radhika! I would never want to kill my child. Whatever happened with Koel was a terrible accident, but you. You are my wife, you are my future, and how can I ask you to kill something that is a part of both of us? Half you. Half me? Don’t you want such a little baby to come in our lives?’
‘I love you…’ Radhika got up and hugged Aarush.
‘I love you too!’ Aarush kissed her forehead.
‘Shall we start our journey back now? It’s almost 7:30 and it’s getting darker and colder.’
‘Of course, let me talk to that man at the window. I’ll be right back.’
‘What? Where are you going?’ Radhika asked.
‘To get helicopter tickets for us!’
‘We came here alone, but we are carrying our baby back with us, and I won’t let you walk another 14 kilometres. And I am never going to forgive you for the 14 kilometres that you have already walked in this condition.’
‘Walking is good in pregnancy, Aarush!’ Radhika shouted, but Aarush wasn’t in a mood to listen. In five minutes he was back with the tickets and in another twenty minutes, they reached the base, from where they started walking.
‘See? Five hours journey in twenty minutes.’
‘But I loved the first part, where we walked.’
‘Yeah, and where you lied!’
‘Aarush, come on!’
‘From now on, no Aarush. I’m the father of the baby first, so you will do what I say, okay mommy?’
‘Okay, daddy!’ Radhika hugged him, and they took a taxi to the hotel. Now the bigger problem that laid ahead of them was – revealing about this pregnancy to their parents!