‘No…no Khushi…it …the contract….it was a mistake. Our marriage is real,’ he rushed on urgently.
The voice undid the last knot. Something shifted inside her and Khushi felt it happen in slow motion…a sudden iciness and utter confusion as she tried to make sense of his words, of the misunderstanding…which did not seem like a misunderstanding but more like déjà vu. And then not a deluge, but a slow…a painfully slow replay of the images that had been long buried.
Earth slowly began to spin on its axis once again. The world righted itself and time resumed its movement after coming to halt with her. But Khushi sat still, unmoving in the darkness of the evening. Images flashed one after another, jerking her sleeping mind out of its inertia, setting the wheels of memory in a slow painful grind. Faces, voices, incidents shimmered clearly on the rippling surface of the pool – one fading into another till they gelled into a single thread – a single thread which tightened like a noose around her, her happiness, the exuberance with which she was waiting for her husband till a few minutes ago.
She heard Arnavji call out to her. ‘No…no Khushi…it …the contract….it was a mistake. Our marriage is real.’
But his voice sounded so far off, lost in the din of loud words that rang in her head.
Tum jaisee ladkiyon ka kya hai…ek gaya toh doosra….
Aukat dekh kar galti karni chahiye…
Khushi moaned, holding her head in her hands. It was true. What she feared. What she had been denying to herself. She had been greedy, greedy for some warmth, some care, some place to belong to…and now….now…now what? Khushi closed her eyes firmly, probably if she kept them closed, this nightmare would pass…probably this was not real…it was all a figment of her imagination. Her mind was playing tricks on her, again.
But each word broke her heart into millions of pieces, pain exploded through her being…intense, so intense that she could almost taste its saltiness as it flowed down from her eyes to her cheeks, mouth. In the broken fragments of her heart, she saw the images playing again and she knew that though she was desperate enough to deny it, this…this was the truth. What she had been living for the last few weeks, that was an illusion, a beautiful illusion which had been created to lure a desperate broken girl. Her pain, her loneliness, her injury, her amnesia – all had been tools in the hands of the man who stood right in front of her trying to once again trap her into the web of words, beautiful lies that he wove.
But the memories of the past burnt her, flames leaping higher and higher, swallowing every shred of peace and tenderness.
You have no character, Khushi…
Aapne amma babuji ko kaise mooh dikati ho…acha hua woh tumhe dekhne ke liye zinda nahi hain….
Tumhare saath ek kamre mein, che mahine…it is disgusting.
‘Khushi,’ she heard him again. ‘Khushi,…what is all this?’ his voice was laced with confusion. ‘Khushi.’ He sounded near. Khushi dragged herself away with a jerk, uncaring of her knee.
‘Careful Khushi, what…what is going on?’ he sounded perplexed.
The first thing that stuck her as she opened her eyes was light, the glittering lights of the poolside, the clean mattress spread under the stars along the poolside, the foolishness of the excited girl whose dreams had once again slipped from her hands.
‘You tell me, Mr. Raizada. What is going on?’
He felt the fine hair at the back of his neck rise at her quiet question. Something was amiss. If she knew about the contract, then why…why was the poolside decorated? What had she been talking about? He had missed something. Uncertainity and fear clawed at his heart. Arnav wished he could see her eyes. She still held her head down, buried in her palms.
‘I…I don’t know, Khushi. You wanted to talk…all this..’ he gestured around vaguely. ‘Please, Khushi. Tell me…’
‘I spoke to Lavanaya. Her wedding at Sheesh Mahal, the six months …’ her words faded as the voices from the past took over again
‘Tumhe mujhse shaadi karni hogi. Cheh mahine ke liye…’
‘Iss kamre ke bahaar hum hum eik couple ki tarah honge…’
‘Mein tumhe kabhi apni patni ka darja nahi doonga’
‘Oh. I…I..thought…’ Arnav attempted to dismiss the panic with light heartededly. Yet it would not fade…the anxiety that ran through his viens. If only she would look up at him. ‘Khushi. Tum theek ho?’
‘Only you can do this, Mr. Raizada. Only you,’ the voice was soft…so soft and calm…so unlike the flame that was burning her inside. ‘Destroy a person and then ask ‘tum theek ho.’ Is it some…does it give you pleasure….to…play with someone’s helplessness?’
Blood congealed and each heartbeat was a painful thud against his frozen insides. Her words echoed in his mind, raising the scepter of the dead past – Khushi Kumari Gupta trembling with rage, throwing her resignation in his face after nearly dying in that dangerous guest house. ‘Aapki vajah se nahi, aapke bavjood hum theek hain.’ Arnav closed his eyes to dispel the nightmare he seemed to be falling into. It had happened. The moment he had been dreading each waking moment. It was here. Everything was going to fall apart in a moment. A sense of helplessness and desperation assailed him. Legs buckled and he fell on his knees some distance from her…afraid to approach her, too scared to do anything. ‘Khushi….’
He wanted her to lift her head and look at him. But when she did that, he would have done anything to escape, escape from the accusation and betrayal that burnt in her eyes. One look at those eyes and he knew. ‘You…you remember….’ She turned away as if she could not bear to look at him. ‘Khushi, listen to me,’ once again he bellowed unable to bear the sight as she turned away.
‘Why? So that you can tell more lies?’ She jerked up from the mattress. Her still tender knee protested at the violent movement. Immediately she winced and bent down to hold it. Out of the corner, she saw Arnav too get up and take a step towards her. ‘No,’ she hobbled to the edge of the pool. ‘No…don’t come near me. I am alright. Just don’t come…’
‘Shut up, Khushi. You are not…you are not alright.’ He would not stop. Arnav caught hold of her wrists and pulled her away from the edge. May be he thought she was going to black out and topple in the water, may be she was going to.
She tried to jerk her hands away but Arnav held them in a vice like grip. He pulled her closer as if by securing her to him he would overcome the tempest that was brewing around them.
‘You lied to me,’ She tried to turn away.
‘No. I haven’t lied to you.’ His fingers left her wrist only for his hands to go around her.
Khushi struggled as she tried to push him away. ‘You deliberately cheated me. Fed me lies…’
‘No. It isn’t like that…’ He would not let her go. Arnav held her still with brute force. ‘Just let me speak…listen to me,’ he shouted. Once again they stood still like they had done weeks ago. Close, noses almost brushing against each other. But there was no tenderness. Instead there were angry breaths, two pairs of angry eyes locked in a combat…one straining to make the other understand, the other blinded by pain and betrayal. ‘Will you listen to me, Khushi?’ Arnav controlled the panic by trying to be reasonable.
But Khushi was in no mood. Taking advantage of his momentary lapse, she pushed his arms away with a jerk. ‘Like you listened to me? Give me a reason…one good reason Mr. Raizada, that I should listen to you. One good reason that I should believe that what you are going to tell me is true.’
‘You don’t believe me! But Khushi,’ he moved towards her. She stepped back holding up her hand to stop him. ‘You don’t believe that…that…Does all this mean nothing to you then? Have these weeks meant nothing to you?’
The flame was burning her being, charring her happiness. Her dreams emerged out of the fire it…crumpled useless ashes.
Gift nahi to tip samajh kar rakh lo….
‘yeh masoomiyat mujhe dhokha nahi de sakti. Main tumhari asliyat jaanta hoon…Tum eik giri hui ladki ho’
She remembered the words of the devil.
‘Aapke liye koi nahi aayega Khushi ji. They will think that you ran away with your lover.’
She felt destroyed…destroyed once again as she had been on the day when he had revealed the truth behind their marriage…when she had tried to plead with him and he had thrown her words in her face.
‘What do they mean to you, Mr. Raizada? A way to tell yourself that you have set things right? A way to absolve you of your guilt? Or is it a reward for ridding you and your family of that snake? Another tip?’
‘Khushi,’ he had to stop her …stop her from saying all this…thinking all this. ‘Think Khushi. Think about all these weeks and tell me…..’
‘Leave me alone, Mr. Raizada’ she interrupted. ‘I don’t want to hear…don’t want to hear your words, your lies that you…’
‘No,’ a single blunt word halted the flow of hers. ‘I told you in Sheesh Mahal, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. I will not leave you now. Not for a moment. And it would do you good to remember that.’
Arnav would always remember the silence that followed his stern words, no longer tender, but harsh, determined, making her aware of the inevitability of his presence by her side. He would not leave her. Khushi’s heavy breathing punctuated the silence…a calm before the storm.
‘Remember…yes, I will remember.’ She hissed. ‘I remember. Bhagwan ho na aap. You are one who writes your fate, everyone’s fate. Tell me, what else do you want to write in my fate….’ Khushi snatched the sheet that covered the mattress and thew it at his feet. Tears choked her voice. Hair came undone. ‘Is there more pain, more grief…do I still have to pay for your thirst for revenge. What do you want? What more do you want?’ Khushi was shouting, trembling with rage as she picked up jug of water on the table and threw it on the ground. Shards of glass scattered like the two breaking hearts.
‘Khushi,’ he shouted suddenly scared for her. Had he pushed her too far? She seemed to have lost all sense of safety. Rage took over completely. She was no longer listening.
‘Or is it your guilt?’ With one swipe of her hand, the glasses on the table joined the shatterd jug. ‘Do you think I am a doll which you can pick up whenever you want, and break her, and walk all over her?’ she tore at the plants around her, pushing the pots till they fell at her feet, shattering and spraying mud in all directions. ‘Healing my injury, cosmetic surgery, physiotherapy.’ She kicked one. The impact jarred her knee and she fell, a shard of glass cutting through her fingers.
‘Stop, Khushi,’ Arnav ran towards her.
But Khushi was beyond reason. ‘I hurt, I bleed! Can’t you see. I am not a doll.’ With her injured hand, she pulled the fairy lights that lit the poolside and threw them behind her. Her feet tangled in the wires and she fell.
Arnav was by her side. ‘Oh my god, Khushi. Your knee. Oh god!, Arnav paniced. But as he came to sit near her, she dragged herself away.
‘Don’t. Touch. Me. Leave me alone. Leave me alone,’ she was shouting hysterically, dragging herself away from him.
‘Okay, stop.’ Arnav shouted, putting lid on her hysteria. Words died but her slender body still trembled against the onslaught of emotion ‘Stop, Khushi. Ok. I will…I will do that. Just, just come inside.’
Khushi remained seated stubbornly still breathing heavily.
‘I will leave, Khushi. Just come inside. I will leave you alone….please.’ If only she would hear him.
Khushi got up gracelessly. ‘Your knee…’ Arnav began. But she walked away towards the room, her stiff gait telling him that she was in pain. Once upon a time he would have raged at her for turning away when he was still talking. There was little he could do now but follow her.
She stood inside, her back towards him waiting for him to leave.
Arnav walked to the door. ‘We need to talk, Khushi. You are angry now. So I will…I will leave. For now, I will leave. But don’t think this is over,’ He finished before closing the door behind him quietly and sinking down to the ground.