‘Khushi,’ Arnav left behind the pretence of being in-charge, of reminding her of his love. ‘If I could give my life to wipe out those days, I would. Tell me what to do Khushi, anything…anything.’
At last her eyes turned towards him, his words were able to elicit some emotions as Khushi gazed at Arnav.
‘Then let me go….’
Let me go. Arnav tried to make sense of the words. But his mind of which he had been so proud once – it seemed to have stopped functioning; even his heart, unable to make comprehend the words, beat in a dull staccato. She wanted to go…of course! He quickly withdrew his hands and gave her space to get up.
‘Yes, Khushi, of course. You…where do you want to go? To the washroom? Yes, you…you must freshen up. Wash your face, I will ask Hariprakash to bring your tea.’ When she said nothing, Arnav continued. ‘Your leg must be stiff sitting like this for so long. Get up and go, Khushi. We will talk later.’
Khushi slowly shook her head, staring at him intently, fresh tears springing in her eyes. Arnav put the lid on the nervousness that was rising to block his throat.
‘To Payal? You want to speak to her, don’t you? She is waiting to quarrel with you,’ he forced a smile.
No response, but her stare did not waver. Arnav rose in agitation.
‘You must spend time with Payal, Khushi. I won’t …won’t interrupt.’
‘Ok..and…. and Payal was saying that buaji had asked the two of you over..to..to spend some days in Lakshmi Nagar. Khushi,…’ once again he sat in front of her, taking hold of her arms urgently ‘You…you can go to buaji. Yes, you go ..go to buaji’s house.’
‘Don’t ..don’t worry. I will come to bring you back ….in one day…two days…a week….’ His voice rose, till he was yelling once again, in a futile effort to make her listen. Arnav grabbed her arms. He had to make her listen. ‘Khushi….Stop it, stop it, Khushi. Stop shaking your head, I say.’
The silence rang as he stared at her long and hard, breathing heavily. Arnav closed his eyes for a moment taking deep breaths. When he opened, she had turned away, resumed staring on the ground. ‘Khushi, Khushi,’ he cupped the back of her head to pull her towards him, trying to kiss her face. Khushi strained away. In the brief struggle that ensued, panic once again took the form of anger. He held her still straining her towards him as she resisted.
‘What the hell, Khushi. What you are thinking will never happen. Your place is here, here…in this house, with your family, with ME. Do you understand?’
‘Yes. You can to Lakshmi Nagar. Stay with your parents, but you cannot stop me from visiting…’
‘No. I need to leave,’ Khushi declared, a peace, a sense of calm had replaced the resentment in her eyes. It disturbed Arnav. She had made her decision and the Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada whom he had come to know, was as stubborn as him. ‘I need time…and …and space. I need to go.’
‘Why? You let me go once…at the airport..why now that…’
‘I was fool,’ Arnav shouted. ‘That ….That is not happening, Khushi. It is not happening ever again. The sooner you understand, the better.’
ASR stalked out of the room in a huff, slamming the door as he always used to. As much as they change, some things always remain the same, Khushi mused staring at the reverberating doors. They no longer scared her. She had learnt that his anger was a mask for numerous other emotions that he did not want to betray. He had changed, she knew. But before she gave into the thought, she needed time…time to evaluate her past, her future. She wanted to go.
‘Payal,’ something in the voice scared her. Payal was busy with the last minute dinner preparations, chattering with NK who leaned on the counter at the same time.
The voice of her brother-in-law interrupted the pleasant chatter. Payal swerved around to meet the ashen face of ASR, her brother-in-law. the man who was always in control, the man whom she had detested once. He looked so…..Something had happened.
‘Khushi…’ Payal’s thoughts went immediately to her sister.
‘She…she remembers.’ He said in a broken voice. ‘Khushi remembers everything.’
‘Oh my God. How? When? Is she ok?’ Payal was already washing her hands wanting to rush to her sister.
‘In the evening…earlier. Payal, she…she is angry. Very angry.’ Payal nodded as she quickly wiped her hand and started to rush towards the stairs. To her sister.
‘Payal,’ the fear in the voice stopped her in her tracks. ‘Please ….’ He could not continue. No words came to his mind. What did he want her to do?
‘Arnavji…’ for a moment as Khushi was forgetten. Payal stilled by the brokenness emanating from the man. Was he the same one who appeared so arrogant, so indifferent in the past? ‘She doesn’t …doesn’t listen to me, Payal? She wants me…to leave her alone.’ His voice lost strength before he gathered himself, taking deep breath. ‘Please, please try to reason … what she wants cannot happen…I cannot let it happen again, Payal. Tell her.’
Payal remembered his words that evening… it seemed ages ago.
I cannot tell her myself and see my life fall apart.
‘Please help me, Payal.’ Arnav stood firm, dignified, no longer hiding behind the mask of false bravado, accepting his need…need of others..of Khushi, of Payal and Akaash, of his family.
I would not be able to move a step. I will be left behind – alone, aching, hopeless. There would be no life for me without her….no present, no future. If I can’t belong to her, then there is no point in living. I will be no one.
Payal could not help but rush forward. Not to hug him, that was still some way off, but she couldn’t resist touching him, a firm hand on his shoulder that promised … she was with him.
‘Khushi..’ Payal barely had the word out of her mouth, when her sister turned around.
‘Jeeji,’ Khushi rushed towards her just as Payal had ran to her sister on the airport. ‘Jeeji.’
Khushi hid her head in her sister’s shoulder and cried for the hurt of last one year, the loneliness, the pain…if only…if only she had had her sister with her. Payal stroked her back. ‘Its over, Khushi…its over. You are back…my sister. My brave sister…my foolish and brave sister.’ When Khushi raised her hand, Payal cupped her cheek. The two sisters sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Foolish, foolish girl. Why, Khushi? Who gave you the right to decide?’ Even as she said the words, Payal knew. Between the two of them it no longer mattered. ‘My marriage…’
‘Wouldn’t you have done the same, Jeeji. For me, if I was in your…your situation?’
‘No. I would have told you, believed in you, your strength…’
‘Then why did you leave the house, Jeeji. If it was not for me.’
Payal did not know what to say. Khushi was confusing the issues. She believed she would not have acted foolishly like Khushi. But Payal knew that she would do anything for her sister, her Khushi. But it seemed so long ago. Payal decided not to argue. Speculations were useless. The important thing was the present…Khushi was back…her memories were back, her injury was healing….soon things would be back to normal.
‘I am so glad…so glad you are here. I can’t ask for anything more. We…we are going to be happy now…both of us here….’ Payal ran her hand in Khuhsi’s hair. ‘Remember how we used to talk…if we were married in the same house…we never got to enjoy that….now we will. Now things will be ok, hai na Khushi?’
The words faltered at Khushi’s silence.
shortish? sorry. But the next update would be up in a day or two. 🙂