Once again the days started settling into a routine at Raizada house – a happy routine, Arnav thought as the family came together for breakfast. He smiled at the pile of jalebis at the center of the table. Khushi had finally managed to breech the boundaries of the kitchen from which Payal, Anjili and even Mamiji had kept her out. She had been home for two days and the atmosphere of Raizada had changed diametrically.
He had been home yesterday, in case Khushi needed him. Today Arnav decided to go to work with Akash and come home early in the evening to take Khushi to the doctor. Probably they could have dinner somewhere, he thought. They had never done such normal things. How different things would have been had he not been scared of his own feelings earlier. He shook his head to shake off the melancholia.
No, he told himself, no point regretting the mistakes of the past. He remembered Khushi’s nightmare on that first night. It made him realize the uphill task he had undertaken. But he had decided. He was going to create so many happy memories that whenever Khushi remembered the past, she would also remember the present. That was all he could do.
The bittersweet memories of that night made him restless. He looked around anxiously.
Where was she? She shouldn’t be in the kitchen for so long. Her knee must be aching. Was she okay? Payal and Anjili Di were also missing, he noticed. Mami was trying to feed little Aditi, who banged the side of her baby chair in enthusiasm, spilling the food on the table. Arnav smiled at Aditi, ruffling her hair before going to seek out Di. They must in the kitchen – with Khushi, he thought.
‘Jiji, if I stay one more day in the bed, I will really fall ill,’ Khushi hurried took out the last batch of jalebis and put them in the sugar syrup.
‘But you need to rest. And you are visiting the doctor today. You can start working after that. ‘
‘Uff …jiji, you sound so much like Arnavji. Khushi don’t do this. Khushi you should be resting. Khushi, come to bed.’
‘So he does take care of you,’ Payal said softly almost to herself.
‘Take care… I am getting tired of being taken care of…and being put in bed by that Laad Governor all the time. If he had his way, he would never let me out of bed and we would stay in the room the whole day…I would be in bed and he would watching over me and…’
‘That’s it stop. Khushiji, Stop, stop, stop,’ Anjili’s voice interrupted her tirade. A burst of giggles followed. Anjili and Payal stood behind her… their eyes twinkling with amusement before Anjili put on a pained face. ‘Stop Khushiji, he is my brother…and I can’t take this..’.
‘Yes, we don’t need details, Khushi’ Payal managed before falling into a fit again.
Khushi blushed crimson as the two women teased. She shook her head with an embarrassed smile as she started arranging the jalebis in plate.
‘Di,’ the man in questioned walked in. ‘I think Mami needs help feeding Aditi,’ Arnav delivered the excuse with which he had come to the kitchen. He took in the scene …the teasing merriment in Anjili and Payal’s eyes as they looked from him to Khushi, a deep crimson blushing stained Khushi’s face. A snort from Payal’s direction as the two women followed his gaze. Some women’s joke probably, Arnav shook his head.
‘Khushi, don’t exert yourself. Leave this,’ he went towards his wife, taking the ladle out of her hands and putting it on the counter. ‘Hariprakash will take care of it…come and eat and then you can go to bed and rest …’ It was definitely a snort. Arnav turned around to see Di stifling her laughter with her hand on her mouth.
Khushi was looking at him with deep mortification. ‘Please Arnavji, go. I am finished here. I am coming.’
Payal bent on over the counter holding her stomach.
’ Khushi urged. And he left.
Behind him he heard Khushi turn on the other two. “Kya Jiji, Di, aap log bhi na…’ her words drowned in a burst of laughter. Arnav knew he was the butt of the joke. But somehow it did not matter. Laughter was back in the house. Happiness was back.
Khushi came to sit next to Arnav still writhing in embarrassment. With the relations between her and her husband still tentative and hesitant, Di’s and Jiji’s teasing had woken her up to some rather disturbing aspects of marriage.
Did he expect…? No. He did not, her mind answered immediately. He had not tried to get close to her- he had given her the space she needed.
What had been their married life like, she wondered. Khushi wanted to look at him and try to remember but with Di and Jiji’s comments still in her mind, she felt shy. She caught the sight of his hands on the table – the hands that had held her hands often over the few days they had been together – strong hands which had given her comfort, warmth , and strength.
And then she remembered his evasion- the evasion that had annoyed her deeply two nights ago after she had the nightmare. The next day she had caught the strange look exchanged between Arnavji and Payal jiji when her husband had come into the room as she had been arguing with Payal.
‘I know Khushi, that Khushi Kumari Gupta Dabba Service is yours…but I can run it for a few more days. Just till you get better,’ Payal told her
‘Arrey Jiji, I don’t know how long will that take. I want to know about it now.’
‘You are so stubborn Khushi, what do you want to know. I have been keeping aside your share faithfully. Trust me.’
‘No Jiji..not that I…’
Payal laughed. ‘I am teasing you, Khushi. Why do you get so worried? Your dabba service is running just fine. You were catering to two other offices apart from AR Designs. I started looking after it with Shuklaji. Some more clients approached us but we took on just one more because…well, because we would need a bigger kitchen..’
‘We need to expand…’ Khushi said excitedly.
‘Probably. And for that you need to get better first.’
‘I think , Payal is right,’ Arnav interrupted the two sisters as they had been laying the table. ‘You need to rest and get better.’
Khushi started to retort before she stopped as she caught the look exchanged between Arnav and Payal – the frankness of her husband’s face and coolness on her sister’s. Something was amiss. They did not seem friendly. Payal must know something about the time of her disappearance. Khushi decided to talk to her sister.
‘Khushi, you need something,’ he shook her upper arm gently. She came back to the present. Khushi shook her head as she looked at his fingers on her upper arm. The warmth from them seeped through her skin. Was it her fancy, or did he really try to touch her every time he could? Beautiful hands, Khushi thought as she felt an urge to run her fingers over his. She stifled the urge as she tried to concentrate on her plate, the teasing still fresh in her mind. It would not be difficult to fall in love with this man, Khushi thought as she went over the last few days. But something still held her back…she needed to talk to Jiji.
As Arnav prepared to leave for home early in the evening, he called Khushi once again. She was to be ready in time, Di would help her, he told Khushi. Not that it was needed. He had told her the same things in the morning , and then again on phone, some hours after being in the office. It was not the message, but the urge to hear her voice. Once upon a time, he would have denied that truth vehemently; now he accepted it, gave into it with pleasure.
The revelations of the night of the nightmare had made him anxious. Even when he was away from her, he liked to know…know where she was, if she was comfortable, if something worried her. Probably he was becoming paranoid – with so much simmering in his mind, with ugly truths and facts waiting, bidding their time before they came into light to destroy everything again. He wanted to know how she was every single moment. He had cried and eased his heart in Anjili’s lap…but where did he go to ease his mind. He needed to back off a bit, he told himself. Only today in the morning, he had caught Khushi rolling her eyes in irritation when he asked her to rest. The memory brought a smile. Though she had not remembered anything of the past, Arnav started seeing glimpses of old Khushi. Slowly the old Khushi Kumari Gupta – the stubborn , I-will-not -give-up girl was coming back to life.
She caught the maniacal gleam in the eyes of the man in the car, headlights rushed towards where she had fallen. They weren’t going to stop. She got up, her knee buckled…she had to move away…move away fast, she dragged her injured knee and hurried away…on the pavement,…as fast as she could…lugging her broken leg…leaving behind a trail of blood.
Part 15 on Monday. Till then, just a question ….when we talk amnesia, what are the first three stories that come your mind? Let me know – films, tvseries, books, Indian, non-Indian? Lets see if it is as cliched as it usually dismissed to be.
See you on Monday.