Ashen face, quivering bodies and thumping hearts -Arnav and Khushi sat gazing at each other unblinkingly. Arnav did not want to miss a single flick of expression that made way to her face. He waited breathlessly, almost afraid of the realization that was imminent.
Khushi also waited. For the flood of memories to topple the walls of forgetfulness, to sweep away the cobwebs of amnesia and return her life, her identity and her sense of self.
Minutes ticked by. Pressure built. Breaths caught…and then..
Exhalation. Nothing. A gradual realization that nothing, nothing was going to happen. Arnav felt his heartbeat fall into a dull weary thump. Yet he watched Khushi, still not ready to give up. Nothing? She scrunched her eyes and waited for the images. Nothing. She began chanting in her mind. I am Khushi Singh Raizada. This man’s wife, a rich man’s wife, Arnav Singh Raizada’s wife. Nothing. I loved him enough to marry. He must have loved me. Nothing. She stood there waiting desperately. These facts must mean something…anything!
Finally she gave in, surrendering to the mist of nothingness that wouldn’t lift. she opened her eyes and turned her gaze of sheer helplessness to the man standing near her, her husband. ‘No,’ she exhaled the breath she had been holding.
She might have slapped him. He got up with a jerk, paced till the door and came back slumping down on the chair, afraid that his knees might give away and he might fall right there. He laced his fingers together tightly lest she saw the betraying shiver that was racing down his spine to his fingertips.
On his way to this damned blasted place which had given him nothing but sadness he was usually prepared for the worst. But no preparation in the world would have been enough for this. in the world of his dreams, he taken her hatred, and anger, and her lashing out at him. Because despite everything, every single thing that had gone wrong between them, he had believed that she felt something for him. It had kept him going. Now he felt is very being crumbling.
‘Kyunki hum apne pati se bahut pyar karte hain.’
The words haunted him day and night.
But this, this fact that he meant nothing to her had not even crossed his mind. Not for one moment had he thought that she would stare at him with complete confusion and bewilderment and tell him that she did not know him. Nothing matched this – this limbo between hope and pain, between love that was forgotten and indifference that stared at him through her eyes into his face.
He closed his eyes wanting to protect his heart from the hurt that came from the blank honesty of her gaze. A scene flashed behind his eyelids.
‘Tumhe kya lagta hai mein jo khuch bhi karta hoon tumhare liye karta hoon. Tumhe agar lagta hai tumhare hone na hone se mujhe koi faraq padta hai, then forget it. You don’t even exist for me’
He took deep breaths, trying to revive his heart. Khushi has lost her memories. Amnesia is a medical condition. She remembers nothing. He chanted in his mind.
Yet she does not trust you, his mind chided. She would not listen to you if you tell her the truth. She senses you as a threat, a danger that has to be fought.
“Kitni der lagi tumhe nayi story make up karne mein. Mujhe tumhari koi baat nahi sunni hai.”
His lean body hunched over as he pressed his elbows into his spread knees – but Khushi had seen the flash of pain in his eyes and realised that her stark denial had managed to hurt him.
‘I’m sorry,’ she pleaded.
He nodded still looking at his fingers when she stopped.
She ran her dry tongue on her parched lips. ‘Pl-Please try to understand.’ She offered an inadquate, unsteady explanation. ‘The doctors said that a shock meeting, some shocking news, sometthing like this might be all that I needed to jolt me into remembering. Yet, I still can’t remember…’
‘It is okay, Khushi. We will seek medical advice.’
But Khushi wasn’t listening. The mind was fixated on the fact that she was married to this man whom she had forgotten. Marriage! How can she forget something like that. Hadn’t they pledged their lives to each other? How could she have forgotten?
‘How long…how long have we been married ?’
‘About…about a year,’ he whispered so low that had she not been sitting so close she would not have heard it. She noticed that he did not meet her eyes. ‘We ..we completed a year, some weeks ago,’ he tagged on, a strange look boring into her. When she did not say anything, he exhaled deeply.
Khushi stared at a distance, incapable of feeling anything for now. Another numbness crept up to envelope her . Some weeks ago, she was thinking. Which made it … they did not even spent six months together.
Where had she been going when the accident happened? Lucknow? Why was she alone? Why was there no one with her? Did they have a fight?
No. She mustn’t allow herself to think like that. And what was the point in hashing it all over right now. Weren’t there far… far more important things to deal with? Was she mad as well as amnesiac?
He heard the gears shifting in her mind, knew the direction into which the thoughts were headed. He needed time to gather his own thoughts before he faced this new challenge. ‘I will call for tea.’ He said quickly and headed for the intercom.
Now after ringing for the tea, he stood with his back to her for a moment. So what’s new? His heart had stopped when she had put forward that simple question. The enormity of his errors once again struck him speechless. How long had they been married? Were they married? He had buried away the contract – buried it away somewhere deep in his mind, never seen it even when those six months had lapsed, when he was still mourning his wife, searching for her everywhere. And all that time, she had no longer been his. Was it the same time that she had felt the need to sell her mangalsutra. The thought of selling the simple chain of black beads thrust around her neck had distressed her. But according to the contract nothing was valid anymore – neither the mangalsutra, nor his love and his need for her, she wasn’t his wife anymore.
No, No. He stopped himself. He must not allow himself to think like that. What was the point hashing it all over again when there were immediate things to take care of. She did not remember the contract? No point telling her. She did not trust him yet. Would she even let him come near if she knew what had passed. No. No need for her to know anything just now. Some things were better forgotten, he told himself. And he was going to make amends. He needed his chance and…and if this was it, then he would take it. If he had to lie, he would do it. He needed another chance to live, just one shot at life.
Khushi carried out the conversation in her own mind.
‘Probably he is lying.’
‘And why would he…and that too for a person so severely damaged?’
‘Right. No one would…but then where was he for twelve months. Didn’t he know that his newly wedded bride was going to Lucknow?’
‘Didn’t he say he wish you in hell.’
‘Probably the marriage was already over.’
‘In six months!’
‘Don’t think so much,’ she told herself. Her head began to ache horribly and she brought up her fingers to massage her temple where the puckered scar stood out agains the paleness of her skin. Please let me remember! He lived in Delhi. Had they met there? Yet her speech was so obviously Lucknowi that even she who had questioned everything about herself over the last twelve, empty months had not once thought to question that. That is the reason she had stayed on in Lucknow -that someone, some relative, some person might see her and come.
How did they meet if she lived in Lucknow. Probably he had a house here. He looked wealthy enough to have a house in every city of India. Look at the clothes, she thought.
It made her conscious of her own appearance. A dull faded churidar and kurta, which even in its better days, was drab and cheap. No jewellery. Hardly anything left after paying the doctor’s bills. She knew the strain of the last few months marked her face. The scar that stood out – it must be the first thing that he must have noticed, right along her hairline, running along her right temple -pink and ugly.
Did she…was she a wife of a wealthy man?
‘You certainly don’t look like one,’ her mind answered. The conversation began again.
‘But that is only superficial. Just good clothes and probably some jewellery and I could be rich woman,’ she answered.
‘You could. But do you feel like one…like a rich woman? His wife?
‘No,’ she had to admit. Howsoever much she tried she could not envisage herself as a rich woman. Poor in fact, poor and lost, lost even in her mind.
‘Why is wealth such an issue? You could certainly do with some more money.’
‘I don’t know. But something about money and him…and me…I don’t know. Everything is an issue. With this man, it seems everything is an issue.. Hey Devi Maiya, please. I did not ask for this. I did not ask for any of this. I just wanted someone, someone who cared…to come. Not this.’
If one would have asked what was ‘this’ that she denied, Khushi would not have been able to explain. By this she meant confusion that she felt in the presence of the man who claimed to be her husband – the denial, the panic, fear, almost a kind of dislike. These emotions could have settled her feelings in themselves had they not alternated with other more troublesome ones – awareness, a sense of familiarity, an exhilaration when he was near, a curious desire to follow his tall and graceful form whenever he moved, to soothe away that hurt that she saw swimming in his eyes at her thoughtless words.
Pull yourself together, Khushi! You have to be sensible. There is no one else to fall back on.
They were interrupted out of their musings by one of the hotel attendants, who came in with a tray. Arnav came to sit. Before the boy could hand the cups to them, Arnav took them. ‘Black coffee for me,’ he said and then he extended the other to her ‘your tea with three spoons of sugar.’
Probably he wanted to convince her that he knew her, her small habits like how much sugar she took with her tea,’ Khushi tried a smile and failing that she just took the cup, her eyes fixed on the whorls of smoke rising from the steaming liquid. Yet the stranger’s face remained fixed in her mind. And the worst of it was she kept on getting this weird idea that him being a stranger to her was not a new feeling. She was familiar with this feeling of not knowing him, not understanding him. It was not new.
Arnav took a sip of the bitter liquid and tried to gather himself. He remembered his dreams that had filled the loneliness of twelve long months. In his dreams, Arnav had held Khushi in his arms tightly while she lashed out; buried his head in her neck as she pushed him away; muttered his muffled apologies holding on to her tightly, not letting her push him away.
But now he held himself in tight restrain as he saw her battling with her dilemmas, alone once again, rejecting his help and him as she tried to believe something which she did not want to – that she was his wife. Stranger, the word came to haunt him again and again. ‘I don’t know you.’ It put up a vast barrier between them, a barrier that he did not know how to overcome.
But I cannot go, Khushi, he promised. You might not want me…but I will not leave you alone. I have lived through hell once, I will not survive the second time.
‘Is it – is the knee better now?’ he said trying to fill up the silence. It was never this way between them. Fighting, flirting, accusations, lectures but silence had never been their way.
‘What-?’ She blinked up at him. ‘Oh.’ A hand automatically went down massage the leg. ‘Much better now.’
The man was persistent. He just would not leave her in peace; persisted in making his presence felt. Should she ask him to leave her alone for sometime, Khushi wondered.
Then almost unbidden another image slipped into her mind. In his arms, holding her, telling her that things would be ok, soothing her till all this terrible confusion disappeared!
Khushi shook her head.
He got up, put his coffee mug with a thump on the table and paced around, not knowing what to do, how to bridge this chasm between them. In frustration he glanced around, ‘It is this …this place is horrible…horrible. Nothing pleasant…!’
It was, Khushi admitted as she followed his gaze and looked around the room as an outsider would. Grand but shabby, unkempt.
‘I love this place.’ Khushi whispered with a challenging defiance. ‘It gave me home – a place to be, something to lean on when I had nothing.’
Her words brought him to a halt once again. Maybe he thought she was taking a shot at him. Whatever he thought, it did pull a plug on the restless frentic energy of a moment ago; he nodded looking into her eyes, shoulders slumped visibly as he walked back to where he had been sitting.
‘Listen, Khushi’ he said. Tension straightened his spine and held it so rigid it tingled like a tautly drawn string. ‘Once we are at home in Delhi, things will be better.’
‘Home,’ she repeated surprised as if she had never heard of the concept before.
‘You will come home?’ He asked almost uncertainly.
‘I…’ She wasn’t at all sure about that. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go anywhere with this man…stranger…your husband, her irritating mind supplied. The thought of leaving this one place which had become a haven of safety in the bewildering world – the very thought sent her into a tizzy.
‘You have to come. The only other alternative Khushi is that I move in here,’ he declared, and so finally that she knew he meant every word he said. ‘But it would be better if we go home because …simply because it is home…and there are others. But-‘ The pause drew her eyes. Her hazel ones clashed with the brown determined ones. ‘But know this Khushi, know this and remember. I will not let you out of my sight –ever again. ‘
She almost choked at his determined words. ‘But don’t you understand. How can I come with you. I don’t know you. I need to be sure. What is the proof that what …you say is true?’
‘Proof? what proof?’ He sounded puzzled.
‘That you are Arnav Singh Raizada, as you say. And I … I am Khushi Raizada, your wife. How can I come with you without knowing anything,’ she watched him as he slowly leaned back, his eyes not leaving her face for a second. Why would he lie, her mind asked.
Arnav slowly sat back. Proof? Before he could think or feel and be lost in hurt once again, he stood up, left the room again and came back with a small document in his hand.
‘My driving licence,’ he held it out. She took it but did not open it. The hands holding the driving licence fell in her laps and she sat still. She knew that the driving licence would testify to his truth. About his identity at least. So she latched on to the last bit of resistance.
‘But…what about the marriage? Photos…?’
Arnav sat back surprised. He had not considered this. She wanted proof of marriage? Would a bleeding heart do? Should he tell her about the sleepless nights? How long he had scoured the streets of Delhi looking for her? The way his very being had splintered when he had gone to identify the things of the dead woman in case it was her? Did these count? Would she believe him?
‘I…I am not carrying anything now,’ he said thickly instead. ‘I don’t carry these things. But once we are in Delhi…I…it will be easier.’
She stared at the driving licence sitting in her lap without attempting to touch it. He was not lying. She believed him. Not because of any implicit trust that he aroused. But because logically thinking, he was a man to be reckoned with. A well known figure in society. A respectable businessman. He could not really lie about such a thing. And though she did not want it to be true, why else would he be standing here for a lost woman in this scruffy room of a down market establishment in a small town?
What made her resist him still? Because her memories did not rush back? Probably. Because the doctors had told her that the amnesia had little to do with her physical condition. The real reason for it lay deeply rooted in her psyche, in some other trauma in her mind which she could not face in addition to all the pain she was suffering. So her mind had done the kindest thing. It had locked up the mental trauma so all she had to do was to deal with was her injured broken body.
Was this man the key to her forgetfulness? Was he the reason she had walled up her mind so strongly?
‘This is not you Khushi,’ he bending down as he said quietly, looking deeply in her eyes. ‘You are not a coward, Khushi.’
‘How do you know. Probably I am one, now. Probably last one year has made me one. Perhaps I have finally given in,’ her voice shook.
Each of her words was like a blow to his heart, a sharp knife twisting deep in his guts. And his sadistic mind joined her to throw up the images, long past but still like it had happened only yesterday when he had set out to break her, hurt her, show her her place.
‘Tumhe haar manni padegi Khushi Kumari Gupta. Kyunki Arnav Singh Raizada kisi se haar nahi manta’
She claimed she was a coward, that she no longer had the will to fight, unaware that Arnav Singh Raizada had lost long ago, long ago when he had realized the truth during the dark days he spent with the kidnappers.
Yet he dug in through the reserves of determination. He was going to fight this, he told himself. Even if she was not willing, he would. Instantly, dropping down into the chair again, his hands coming out, covering hers where they lay pleated tightly together on her stomach, safely away from his driving licence, as if this confirmation of his identity, his very existence, she wanted to deny…forget.
‘Then let me help you, Khushi?’ he said gently as if talking to a child.
He flipped the license which lay upside down. A small photograph showed his handsome features set in a sternly arrogant stance.
‘You look so stern,’ she said, trying to lighten the moment. ‘almost like chiseled in stone.’
He looked down at his picture. Was she doing this deliberately…uttering these truths innocently…words that ate away at him?
‘There are your photographs…at home,’ he remembered that photographs from Akash’s wedding. Probably they would convince her. They had to. He refused to think further.
Home. Again he said that word, the word that agitated her.
‘You keep saying home…where is home? Where is my home? I don’t remember…can’t remember anything. Why was I alone…alone merely months after our marriage. Where were you when I was alone,’ the questions buzzed in her hand and the panic of going anywhere with this man spread through her. She closed her eyes,
Someone hissed out a curse. The next moment two hands were grasping her shoulders and lifting her to her feet.
Her being reveled in the warm solid strength while her mind shouted out at her to be careful.
She groaned. ‘Leave me. I am not…not fainting.’
‘Then what? What is happening. Kushi… Khushi open your eyes. ‘ he was panicking. Khushi could hear it in his voice.
Khushi inhaled and the air went gushing into her system bringing along with it, the scent -forgotten and yet known – a scent that hammered on the fringes of forgetfulness – a scent that was so…so him. She felt the fine hair at her nape rise. I know this, she thought. This scent…it is so familiar. So familiar that she would know it anywhere. With that thought, this time she fainted, went limp and knew nothing for long seconds.
Knees buckled but a pair of arms stopped her from hitting the ground, gently holding her swaying form, breaking her fall as they went down with her
This time when she came round she was sitting on the floor, with him sitting next to her, his warm body supporting her, bending over her, one arm around her, while the other determinedly pressed her head to his shoulder.
‘Stay here,’ he gritted when she tried to sit up. ‘Just take a deep breath, Khushi. Lean on me.’
She stayed, limp and utterly exhausted. Yet once again she waited…waited for…nothing…no bright flood of love and intimacy assailed her mind. No…not even the ugly terrifying images. Nothing. Zilch
Finally she drew away and looked up.
Her mind disappointed her once again.
His eyes glinted, and the line of tension around his mouth deepened. Then he inhaled deeply and held onto to the lungful of air for a long time before exhaling it out.
‘We need to consult a specialist. About why you faint so often.’
‘No. I don’t,’ she corrected him. ‘Its you. You are too…’, he got up abruptly. He felt as if his entire being hung on the edge of a precipice – one slight topple and he would be lost forever.
‘What? Too what? Don’t stop now, Khushi. Tell me? Tell me, too what?’
”Too imposing, forceful. I feel that..if I don’t put my feet down, you would just sweep me away.’
‘Perhaps, I should then’ he said in a quiet determined tone as if pondering over her words. He bent to pick up the driving licence so that she could not see the tears once again surface in his eyes. ‘You’re coming with me. If it is me, then I will stay away. There are others at home to take care,’ His lean body was graceful even in its rigidity. ‘Lets go for dinner. then I have to make some calls ‘ he straightened. ‘And while I do that, you can …and pack your things. We can be on our way as soon as I can arrange…’
‘Now. Tonight? See. Do I have any say in this at all?’ she asked cuttingly.
‘No.’ He wore a look of grim resolve. ‘Not one single damned thing. I’ve spent the last twelve months alternately – thinking you dead and looking for you everywhere in Delhi. Now you are here, Khushi. And even if…’ he swallowed with difficulty. ‘Even if you have forgotten everything, I have not. So until you remember’..,’ but he even feared the possibility of her remembering. He forced himself to continue ‘Till you remember, I am here to stay.’
He was silent almost afraid to even contemplate the possibility. Yet he dug into the last reserves of his courage and whispered. ‘And then you can decide…whatever…you can decide.’ His eyes looked at her, as if trying to pierce the haze which enveloped her mind.
‘All you have to do is accept that I am your husband and you are my wife , Khushi. Everything will be fine, you will see.
Everything will be fine! Lavanaya choked. When Aman Mathur had told her that her friend khushi was ASR’s lost wife, Lavanaya had thought he was pulling her leg. But he had been earnest. And now ASR had issued instructions for their flight to Delhi to be arranged as soon as possible. She was wondering about her friend when ASR had sent her to Khushi. Lavanaya had gone, disliking the bossy nature of the man.
Later as she was taking dinner for the two of them to Khushi’s room, she had cornered Aman alone.
‘I hope you know what you are doing. What you have done!’
‘It is not in my hands. I did not …’
‘Then you should have thought before bringing this on …on her. But yes, winning some brownie points with the boss…’
‘Thats it, Ms Lavanaya. I will talk to him. But you have said enough.’ With that Aman had walked off.
Lavanaya certainly did not think Khushi should follow him at a moment’s notice. They sat in her room eating the dinner together.
‘You don’t know him!’ She reasoned. ‘Are you sure he is telling you the truth?’
‘And why do you think he would lie?’ Khushi turned the question round. The question had been running in circles in her mind.
‘I don’t know.’ Lavanaya bit out. ‘It doesn’t seem right.’
‘How do I learn everything, Lavanaya?’ Khushi shrugged. How could she explain this feeling that she knew him. His features, his face was that of a stranger…but she could not deny the familiarity that washed her senses at his touch, his smell. And with her mind refusing to visit the memories, these were the only things of past she could depend on. She kept down the spoon she held and reached out for lavanaya’s hand.
‘I will be careful. And now, I am not alone like the last time. I know you are here.’
‘Yes, Khushi. And this time don’t you dare forget that’ Lavanaya replied with a smile and a heavy heart. ‘How could you forget your marriage to a man…a man like him. I mean, look at him…he is so…so forceful. And just because he is the mighty Arnav Singh Raizada doesn’t excuse him from having to explain what happened. Why were you alone on the highway? Was there someone else? Where were you going? If he was worried about you, wouldn’t you expect a man like him to pull out all the stops in an effort to find you? At the very least he could have checked out the police stations and hospitals,’ she pointed out.
‘He is from Delhi,’ she suggested.
‘Oh..but still. He knew you were heading to Lucknow, isn’t it? He must have known,’ Lavanaya sounded dismayed .
Her thoughts echoed Khushi’s own. How little he had explained. And she was afraid to ask. In some incomprehensible way, it felt better not to ask about what happened then, the state of their marriage, their relationship. ‘The trouble is,’ Khushi said with grimace, ‘I can’t think about all this now. I feel weak. …I…I passed out twice in a day, Lavanaya. But…’she looked at her friend with a bleak yet resolute gaze. ‘If I have to discover why I’ve ended up here…in this condition, like this,’ Khushi said quietly, ‘then I have no choice but to go with him.’ As simple as that