‘Why did you marry me then?’
The question – spoken softly, laced with surprise and shock, and yet loud enough to jar his heart, and resound in his ears unendingly – Why? Why did you? Why did you marry?
Khushi saw him clench his teeth. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel and the knuckles turned white. He was not going to answer her. If she repeated her question, he would again use her condition as an excuse. Like every other time. She knew it now, even before he uttered the denial. She knew his silences by now- when he withdrew into himself to nurse his hurt, when he was in pain, and now when he became a mute wall out of which she could get nothing. Khushi realized that. And close on the heels of this realization came annoyance and suspicion that pulled her away from him. Every time she felt like giving in to the tug of her heart, the demons of the past pulled them apart.
Khushi stared at him, question writ clearly in her eyes. Arnav avoided her gaze, veiling the turmoil raging in him. In the small space of the car, the air thickened with anxiety, making it difficult to breathe. Khushi felt her heart beats thud heavily. Though her initial dislike had all but faded, her feelings towards the man she now accepted as her husband, oscillated between fascination and wariness, between the desire to give in to the mesmerising call of his eyes and throw all caution to wind, and then the warnings that her heart and mind issued at moments like these – that she was playing with fire and if she was not careful it would burn her.
Look at yourself, Khushi, the rational and cautious part of her brain warned her. Look at yourself – one year of being married to him and here you are – lost, injured and so vulnerable.
It might not be his fault, the foolish part of her heart quipped timidly. It was an accident.
Is that so? Just an accident? Then why is he so secretive, the brain countered.
‘Two days, I did nothing but search for you…all around the place where he had kept me…roads of Delhi…every where,’ she remembered his earlier words. She believed him. But hadn’t that evil man in her dreams told her the no one would come for her.
‘No one, Khushiji. They will think you ran away. Who would care now?’
‘You ran away…with your lover. No one believes you…no one will ever believe you …. You have no choice.’
And she had believed him too. She must have believed him ….so much so that she had jumped over the bridge…uncaring whether she lived or died. Why, if she had a loving husband and a caring family waiting for her? And suddenly her mind threw up a brief memory from its scant store…the voice she had heard.
‘You have no character, Khushi.’
The memory surfaced insistently. She suppressed it …forcefully and with a sigh, Khushi released him from his gaze.
She did not ask the question again.
Somehow that scared Arnav. Was she giving up on him? The thought made him breathless. Yet try as he might he could not bring himself to answer her question.
Arnav wanted to tell her that he married her because he loved her. He could have sent her away…out of Shyam’s reach. He could have stopped Shyam Manohar Jha, after all he had money, means and power do to it. And Shyam would have done anything for money. But blinded by rage, he had done the first thing that came to his mind. He had chosen to bind her to himself closely even though she was a threat to Di’s marriage.
But he had done that to punish her. He had done that because though he had fallen in love with her, he did not trust her. And above it all, he had not given her the chance to tell her story. He had believed Shyam at once, without any misgivings and doubts. And after that his anger had wreaked havoc in her life.
Look at her, Arnav, look at her. One year of being married to a man like you and look where she has ended.
‘I hate you, Mr. Raizada,’ he remembered her words uttered so long ago. ‘I hate you like I have never hated anyone. Because no one can love you. You are not a man whom anyone can love.’
His shoulders hunched everytime he felt the burden of truth behind her angry words. He did not deserve this chance, any chance for that matter – because, he had not given her one.
But how could he tell her that on his own? After all that had passed, would she believe him if he told her that he had married her because he loved her.
‘Probably,’ the selfish and cowardly part of his heart told him. ‘She does not remember. She might believe that. And it would ease so many of her doubts. Think about it, she might even come to like you.’ the temptation was great.
As they came around the clinic, one of the high end ones in Delhi, Khushi quietly opened the door and climbed out, and like she had done on the airport, she limped towards the gleaming doors, without giving him a glance.
Arnav watched her helplessly, her stony expression flaying him more than the tears and accusations would have. At the airport, now nearly a week ago, her complete disregard of his presence had hurt him. Now every time it reappeared, it upset him more. It destroyed those moments of tentative togetherness, the cautious bridges he built to get closer, the sparkling memories of the last few days when she would slowly let the barriers down and let him in, into her life again. At moments like these, he felt that he would do anything, go to any lengths to make her smile once again – smile at him.
‘This way Khushi,’ he put a hand under Khushi’s elbow as he nodded at the receptionist. Khushi smiled her thanks and turned towards the corridor which led to the cabin of the orthopedic surgeon who would look at her knee. Calmly she disengaged her elbow and moved ahead.
‘Khushi, please,’ the sigh was almost involuntary. It stopped her. She wondered why his pain upset her so much, why did she feel this compulsion to alleviate it though she was angry with him.
She gave in to the impulse reluctantly. ‘Come, I want to know what he says. And the brain doctor as well. What do you call him?’
‘Neurologist,’ he grabbed the olive branch and moved next to her, relief evident in his features.
‘Yes, neurologist. I want to meet him, Arnavji. I am waiting to hear him before I fight with you,’ she smiled. Despite the dread in his heart, Arnav could not help but smile back. She was smiling at him.
But the relief was brief. None of the visits went as Khushi would have wanted them to be.
‘You would have to go in for a surgery. That is your best chance, Mrs Raizada.’ After a battery of tests and endless questions, the orthopedic surgeon announced his verdict.
‘The limp?’ Arnav asked him.
‘I cannot say for sure. Surgery should have been performed immediately after the accident. But it has been nearly a year now, as you say. So I am not sure. But your wife is young and healthy. You never know with, with the surgery and physiotherapy, it might go, eventually. It will still take time.’
‘So, you are not sure the surgery would be successful,’ Khushi said softly.
‘It depends. If you are just concerned about the limp, then no. I am not sure. Though there are reasonable chances of it disappearing. But the surgery would help you with the pain that you suffer from. The knee would not hurt you or tire you as it does now. That I can assure you.’
Khushi nodded. ‘How much would it cost?’ the question left her before she could think. Probably it was the financial hardship of the previous year that thinking about money had become a habit.
The doctor named an exorbitant figure, much higher than the government hospital in Lucknow had told her. Her heart quailed with disappointment till she felt a warm hand enclose her. Arnav looked at her with a frown before turning back to the doctor. ‘We would want to go for it then. As soon as possible,’ his eyes sought hers which were fixed on their hands. Khushi did not reply. What was she thinking? She did not need to worry about the money!
‘Four days from now?’
Arnav nodded. ‘I would confirm in the morning tomorrow,’ he said softly taking leave. Khushi had not looked up.
Khushi was disappointed. After the cost of surgery which upset her as much as Arnav’s immediate decision to go ahead with it without asking her, she had been looking forward to seeing the neurologist. But he was as vague as the one she had seen in Lucknow. There was no reason that her memories did not come back. Would they ever be back? He could not say. Should she be told about the past? Well, she would have to be careful. The human mind works in strangest of ways and medical science was yet to work out its secrets. She should be careful and not strain herself too much.
Khushi left the clinic in a high state of frustration.
‘I don’t want to go in for the surgery,’ she said through clenched teeth. They had been sitting in silence. Arnav did not know what went in her mind. So he planned the future …the surgery, physiotherapy…he would assist in it. Yes, he would do anything. Take care of her, heal her, love her …
‘What?’ Arnav was surprised. ‘But why, Khushi? It will stop the knee from hurting so much. And the limp too. We will get a therapist and…’
‘I don’t have money.’ Her words stopped him immediately.
‘Khushi. Why are you saying that?’ he tried to keep the hurt out of his voice and failed. ‘You know you are no longer alone, we can afford it.’ He knew it was not merely about the surgery. Her earlier question was still fresh in their minds.
‘You have money, Mr. Raizada. Not me. You. … you are rich.’ It sounded like an accusation. Khushi wondered how to put her uneasiness into words when it was so unclear to herself. But along with his earlier silence, that uneasiness came to haunt her once again. Despite the fact that she had been living in his big and comfortable house for days now, whenever she mulled about it.. that idea of him being wealthy …insanely wealthy, it upset her.
Arnav waited for her to continue.
‘I have this … this feeling that I am not. I don’t feel …why do I feel that I don’t belong to your world,’ she rubbed her forehead. ‘There is something that stops me. I don’t feel rich. In fact quite the opposite. And I have been wondering why I feel this way. If I am your wife, then why does the idea of your being wealthy upset me so.’
‘You don’t like the idea of …of being rich.’
‘It is not that. Just that it makes me uncomfortable and if I am your wife, it shouldn’t, should it?’
Arnav hid the heartache behind arrogance. ‘You would have preferred someone…more middle class.’
His arrogance hurt her. It brought out the worst in her and she could not stop from blurting out the barbed words that she knew would hurt him right back.
‘Perhaps someone who made me feel comfortable. Someone whom I could trust. Someone who cared.’ Now, within a few days, she had learnt what hurt him.
He nodded stiffly and turned into the drive way of Shantivan, pretending concentrate on the car. His teeth clenched as he strove to keep his face from crumbling. The throat moved as he swallowed her words. Immediately she was seized by the yearning to take away her words, to make him forget, even apologise. She suppressed it.
‘And you think I don’t?’ his voice was dull, defeated.
Before she could reply, Mami’s voice from the doorway interrupted them.
‘Arrey, what are the two lubbh burds doing in the car. Come in, jaldi. Looks whose is heres.’