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into his sister's room. If it was any other day, he would have waited for her
permission to enter, he would have seen that she had had a long day just like
him, he would have noticed the plate of food, her dinner, lying untouched on
the bedside table.
But it wasn't
any other day; it was a devastating day.
It was the
day he mustered up the courage to visit the girl he loved after three long
treacherous weeks; it was day he saw her more shattered than ever before; it
was the day he understood he had wronged her perhaps as much as she was wronged
by her father.
It was a day
he would never forget.
up from the book she was reading. "What's wrong? Why are you soaking wet?"
he breathed, stopping a foot from her bed. "You knew Khushi's mother passed
away three weeks ago."
hardened. She set down the book and said coldly, "And?"
didn't think it was important enough to tell me that the girl I loved needed
"So Khushi is the girl you love now? That was a quick transition from being
your brother's girlfriend."
Arnav took a
deep breath, struggling to contain his frustration. "This is not the time-"
"Oh, yes it
is!" she interrupted, her delicate features contorting into rage. "It is just
the time to discuss how ridiculous you have been acting for the past three
"Anju," he warned.
"Oh, stop it
Bhai!" she answered, rolling her eyes. "Stop pretending that you are the older
one, that you know better than us. Because you don't."
Arnav was too
livid to speak.
If truth be
told, he was expecting it. He hadn't so much as looked at her for the past
three weeks, preferring to pour all his time locked up in his study, absorbed
in work so he could ignore the longing burning inside him. It was only when he
received a call from a nearby hospital two days ago, carrying the news of her
accident, that he realized just how foolish he was to ignore the only sibling
who still had any sort of respect left for him.
just told me," he finally muttered, looking into her accusatory eyes.
crossed her arms. "Why should I have told you Bhai?"
sorely reminded of his mother. She too used the same stance every time she
reprimanded him for doing something wrong.
"I begged you,"
she continued. "I begged you not to do something stupid that day, I told you
not give up because Akash is your brother, but you went ahead and did it
anyway. You ignored everything you were putting at stake because you cared more
for your brother than you did for the girl you love!"
He rolled his
hands into fists. It was so much worse hearing what he had done said out loud.
"But I still
tried anyway," Anjali said. "I waited all evening that day to tell you what had
happened. But you never came home. You didn't pick up my calls and neither did
you think it was important to tell me where you were."
He closed his
eyes. He had spent that fateful day in his favorite nursery just outside the
city limits. It was the only place that kept the suffocation of his actions at
bay, that gave him the space to understand the consequences of his choice. He
had returned home late, determined not to regret his decision to stay away from
Khushi, to find his sister pacing the living room.
pressed on. "And when you finally did come, all I got was "it's over" before
you locked yourself up in your study... for three
weeks. What did you expect me to do?!"
in his wildest dreams, did Arnav imagine this
to be the outcome of his decision that night. He had assumed -woefully- that
Anjali wanted to discuss what he had done to Khushi. Having no interest in what
would have been a painful conversation, he retired to his room, not realizing
that his sister wanted to tell him something else entirely.
could he be?!
"You talk so
much about doing the right thing na Bhai, but did you ever stop and think what that
right thing was? Khushi loves you.
More than she knows as far as I can tell. And you just let her go like she
wasn't worth anything, like she was just another person who had the misfortune
of crossing paths with you!"
fell in defeat.
that's what you were planning to do since the beginning, what was the point of
isolating yourself from everyone? Do you have any idea what I have been through these past three weeks?! Akash
was gone - I had no idea where the hell he was. And even though you were here,
you were just as much absent. In both of your haste to prove the other wrong,
you forgot that there is someone else in this family too!"
Arnav watched his little sister, feeling as if
she suddenly grew up. "I'm sorry," he
whispered, dragging himself to the bed and flopping down with a sigh.
"I don't need
your sorry Bhai," she replied curtly. "Whatever happens between you and Akash
should stay between you and Akash.
It's not my fault or Khushi's that we care for both of you. Not just one."
"I know," he said, burying his face in his
hands. "I never wanted to let her go. My
conscience didn't let me live in peace even for a second in these three weeks,
because I knew I broke her heart into a million pieces... she trusted me,
probably the only one after her brother. But I still did it because I knew she
could survive. She could survive this... and Akash couldn't."
"But I was
wrong. Seeing her today... talking to her... she is so hurt, so guilt-ridden. She
has been let down by so many people in her life that it's a miracle she is
still standing on her two feet. And instead of helping her, I did the worst
thing I possibly could've; I let her down too."
softened considerably. "Bhai..."
"I know it's
too late," he said, looking down at the carpeted floor. "I can't fix what's
break to be put back together... you told me that."
He gulped. "I
don't know if I can. I don't think I can ever win back her trust. I know she
will never say it, but she will never be able to forget that I abandoned her in
her hardest times."
Anjali had no
answer to that. He didn't expect one either, for all Arnav could think about
was Khushi's tears as she poured out her grief that evening. How much he wished
he could just swallow her misery and make it disappear. There was probably nothing
in the world he wouldn't give to see her happy and whole again.
Anjali's hand on his shoulder. "I may
not know much about your relationship Bhai," she said soothingly. "But the fact that she talked to you today,
instead of shutting you out like what she has been doing all these days is a good sign. It means she forgives you or
at least will consider forgiving
"She slammed the door on my face when she first saw me. I hardly consider that
a good sign."
"It's not funny."
did you expect her to do?" she said, failing miserably to contain her smile.
"Run into your arms?"
"Why are you
so amused by this?"
can't imagine anyone shutting the door on the famous Arnav Singh Raizada, let
alone the girl he madly loves."
shrugged. "Well there is a first time for everything."
is Khushi... okay now?"
"As okay as
anyone who lost a parent will ever be."
the grin falling from her face. "Shyam is so worried for her... she doesn't eat,
she doesn't sleep. She barely talks to anyone. It's been a rough three weeks."
stomach knotted in guilt.
"I wanted to
tell you so many times," she continued. "I thought maybe she would feel better
talking to you, but Shyam wouldn't let me."
appeared on his forehead.
her," she explained. "How would you feel if Shyam did the same with me."
The knot in
his stomach tightened even more.
"I tried to
convince him, but he was going through enough as it is... I didn't want to push
him. Besides, I didn't even know if Khushi wanted to see you. She was so lost
the last time I tried talking to her. I didn't even know if she heard at least
half of what I said."
"It will take time," he murmured finally. "A
long time for her to get used to it all."
desolately. "I just feel so helpless... I can't do anything except visit them
everyday. I don't get through to Khushi and the fact that I can't, pushes Shyam
away even more. The only thing I do is make sure he is eating and sleeping on
time. There is nothing he wants to say and there is nothing I can say..."
his hand in hers. "I'm sure the fact that you are there makes all the difference in the world."
though the worry was still etched on her face.
which, didn't Shyam visit you even once in the last two days?"
pressed her lips.
"He does know that you got into an accident,
knows," she answered, hesitant. "But with Akash back... I didn't want to risk
else ringed in Arnav's mind at that. "Did you know Akash broke up with Khushi?"
It took a
moment for the news to sink in, but when it did Anjali's mouth hung open. "He
did what?" she shrieked. "After all
that yelling he broke up with her?!"
"The same day her mother passed away actually. There couldn't have been a more awful
her mouth in horror. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed, her voice muffled. "So, she
thought both of you broke up-"
into a deep silence. It seemed, like he, even she struggled to comprehend the
drastic turn of events. Arnav vaguely wondered if Shyam knew the full details of
what had transpired that day; but no sooner than the thought hit, he quickly
dismissed it. Even if Shyam didn't know, he was sure to find out by the end of day.
Arnav could only imagine his anger upon finding out his sister was abandoned by
two of her closest people.
comes back from his dinner," Anjali said suddenly, in a resolute voice. "I'm
going to kill him."
* * *
out the window, feeling the air pulse with a life of its own. It was the day
after her conversation with Arnav and for the first time since her mother's
demise, she could think about something other than that day. It was if someone
suddenly turned up the volume and she was back in the hustle bustle of everyday
Of course, it
wasn't perfect. She still preferred her seat beside the window, she still
refused to answer Jaya's useless questions and she still wanted to mourn in
complete silence. It would be a long time before she could even think about
changing her routine, but for now the fact that she could acknowledge all that
echoed through the quiet house. Like a reflex, she rose to answer.
Ma'am," greeted a courier boy. "I have a parcel for Khushi Kumari Gupta."
the package -a lanky silver-colored rectangular box- curiously and signed the receipt
of delivery, before closing the door. Upon opening it, a glittering white
fabric rolled out, which she realized was a one-shouldered, knee-length dress,
embellished with beautiful gems. A note was clipped to the hem of the neck. It
smile spread across her lips. Even without having memorized the curvy
handwriting in what felt like another lifetime altogether, Khushi knew who
wrote it. It seemed his habit of not leaving a name was yet to change.
"Who was it
Meeti?" came Shyam's voice from behind.
folded the dress back into the box. "A delivery boy. There was a parcel for
"What is it?"
"A gift," she
answered, striding back into the living room.
He followed. "A
gift from Arnav Singh Raizada?"
Did she hear right?
honestly think forgiveness can be bought by an expensive gift?"
other choice, she hesitantly turned around. Shyam was standing with folded
arms, a look of disapproval plastered on his face.
her breath. "You know."
He took his
time to answer. "You used to cry a lot as baby Meeti. No one really understood
why. Everyone would hopelessly try different things until something or the
other calmed you down. By the time you were two years old, they had the
protocol down: every time you cried, they would hand you off to me."
silence rang through room.
could understand what was wrong. I didn't need you to tell me what you wanted. I just knew, just like how I know now. And
I will always know Meeti, even if you choose to hide it."
She suddenly relaxed.
If it was a few days ago, she might have felt guilt pooling in her veins, but
now, in light of everything they have been through, she felt nothing but
relief. The messy, awkward part about coming clean with her brother was over
without her even having to try.
"I didn't choose
to hide it," she finally said, curling up on the beige colored sofa. "I just
couldn't tell you."
Shyam looked at
her, a line on his forehead.
Akash's brother... it wasn't meant to work out."
"And he saw
to that, didn't he?" he muttered, sitting down across from her. "He walked away
before you both even had a chance. Some nerve he has sending you that dress."
odd to hear that. Why was did her brother sound so... accusatory? "You are
angry," she concluded, finally being able to pinpoint his mood.
"Of course I
am angry!" he replied. "He left you, without thinking even twice what it meant.
What kind of a man does that make him?"
"It makes him
"It makes him
a coward. Haven't you learned anything from Maa?"
"I did learn
Bhaiyya, which is why I know he trusted me to understand."
stunned. "Are you actually defending
short. She defending Arnav? Was that even possible? She looked out the window,
trying to train her thoughts. "I... I am not defending him... I'm just explaining
his point of view."
"So you are
okay to understand his point of view, but you don't want to let me understand yours?"
her stomach drop. She turned to her brother, who sat meekly still, a stricken
expression on his face.
"I lost her
too Meeti," Shyam murmured, looking down at his lap. "She meant just as much to
me, as she did to you. But now it feels like I am losing you too..."
"I get it
that you are hurt... and when I say that, I don't mean it in the way that
everyone has been telling you, I meant it in a way that means you are not
alone. I have watched her more times
than you Meeti... I called the ambulance more times than I can remember... I know what it feels like."
Khushi felt her
throat seize up.
"But do you
know how I got through that?"
"It was you. You are the reason I got through all
that. Because every time I was convinced I lost her, I kept reminding myself
that I still had you. I told myself over and over again that you shouldn't have
my fate; that you deserved at the very least to have someone look after you,
someone who could do the growing up for you..."
looked up. She was shocked to see tears glistening in his eyes.
"I have seen
enough for a lifetime Meeti... You are the only family I have left a-and I can't
lose you too."
It was as if
her mind suddenly cleared. Khushi stood up, determined to cross the few feet
that wrenched them apart in the last couple of days. She settled down next to
her brother, winding her arm around his and resting her head on his shoulder.
She felt him reach out to hold her hand, clutching it as if his life depended
on it. And she knew that it did, because if there was anything her brother
couldn't tolerate, it was the thought that he failed her.
And if there
was anything she couldn't tolerate,
it was letting him feel that way.
know how long they sat there, never uttering a single word. As odd as it was,
the silence seemed to do all the talking for them.
remember the time you tried to explain to me what handcuffs were?" she finally said.
He took a
moment to answer. "Wasn't it the day the divorce got finalized?"
nodded. "Yeah... and I was complaining about that guy making fun of me in
think so. But do you know what you said to me then?"
her head to look up at his blank face. "You said if Pranav ever made fun of me
again, you would beat him up."
at the memory.
"That's how I know you will never lose me
Bhaiyya... because you are the only one who knows how to take care of me. And if
it wasn't for you, some Pranav would still be making fun of me."
It seemed he
had no words for an answer, for he simply kissed her forehead. But for Khushi,
it was enough because she knew she was forgiven. Relieved, she said:
"So now that
we proved I am not completely heartless, can I ask you something?"
you tell me about Anjali?"
shocked at her blatancy. "H-how...?"
"Save it. You
are not the only one how can be
clever in this family. The point is why you went out of your way to hide it?
From what I heard, it's been going on for a while."
"I... I didn't want to keep it a secret. I was just waiting for the right moment.
Things were chaotic with the chemo, your internship, my cases... I felt it was
almost selfish to bring up our relationship."
The little bit
of anger she had been struggling to hold on at him, vanished without a trace.
"But with all
that waiting, I lost the chance to tell Maa..."
on his shoulder. "You know what I think? We should stop feeling guilty - a lot
of the things in our lives aren't our faults."
the right moment. It never came. So what? That doesn't make this any less important.
She would've been happy then, she would be happy now."
his head atop hers. "You sure grew up fast Meeti."
"So tell me - how is she like?"
She is... hmm... I actually don't know. She is sweet; she cares about everything
around her, whether it's her work, her precious flowers, her brothers... She is
the type of person you would want to meet on a really bad day, she makes
everything just disappear. She is very innocent; sometimes I feel like I need to
just hide her away for her own good. There is so much more, but I don't think I
will ever stop if I start. So why don't you just meet her -properly- and see for yourself."
thing Khushi heard in all of that was the affection in her brother's voice and
it told her everything she needed to know: He loved Anjali and even if she, Khushi,
tried, she will never understand why.
actually Anjali who wanted to keep this quiet," he continued. "She was waiting
for Akash to come back... so she could tell him and Arnav about us. Of course,
that meant I couldn't tell you because you would tell-"
"Me and Akash
Shyam sat up,
She stared at
her hands, avoiding his eye. "After he read that article in the New Delhi
Times, he thought I-I cheated on him. So that day, before I went to see Amma,
we met up a-and he broke up with me..."
stubbornly kept her eyes down, not daring to look at her brother. She already
felt so guilty for pushing him away, she couldn't face his reaction upon
finding out she hid much more than her grief at their mother's passing.
"I guess that
was coming," he finally said.
surprised. "It was... but it happened for all the wrong reasons."
up, and walked to the window she took refuge beside for so long.
worry," she continued, not knowing what to make of his silence. "I don't feel
bad for what happened. I had it coming after all that I have done..."
He was quiet.
Bhaiyya, I'm fine-"
"I know when
you lie to me Meeti," he interrupted, still keeping his back to her. "Even those
times you had sleepovers" -his hands made quotation marks in the air- "at
"So why don't
you tell me what you are really thinking?"
"I... I don't
want to think any-"
"Do you love
was so direct, so unexpected that Khushi was dumbfounded. She didn't know how
to answer him. Upon receiving no reply, Shyam glanced back and said:
answer so complicated? Or are you confused who I am talking about?"
She shook her
head. "I know who you are talking about. It's the question that is complicated,
not the answer."
"Okay, let me
simplify it then - can you love him despite knowing that he is always going to
pick his brother over you?"
out the window, his words bringing forth the turmoil she had successfully
avoided since meeting Arnav last night. But it seemed bringing it out into the
open was not of much use, because her answer was the same as it was yesterday: