Tossing and turning on the sofa, beads of sweat adorning his brow, Arnav woke up the following morning like he did every other day, drenched in his own sweat with a jolt. He looked up at the air conditioner. The temperature read 18 degrees.
Pushing his flimsy blanket to one side of the couch, Arnav draped his feet to the floor and picked up his mobile phone to check the time. It read 4.45. He had barely slept for over two hours. And yet he knew that he wouldn't get any more sleep. This wasn't the first time he'd had a nightmare. He also had a lot of work to get done.
Pushing himself up from the couch, Arnav slowly made his way to the attached bathroom in his room, glancing briefly at Khushi's sleeping form. Cuddling a pillow like a soft toy, she had placed her head on the make-believe toy, strands of disheveled hair strewn across her facial features. She looked calm and serene and at peace with herself. And for a brief moment, Arnav felt a pang of jealousy. Khushi Kumari Gupta had no standing of her own in society. Arnav Singh Raizada was the best in his field, a multi-millionaire constantly sought after by all the aspects of society that mattered. But she seemed to have the one thing he really wanted - peace.
When the curtains opened and bright sunlight streamed in filling the entire room, Khushi Gupta, for a minute, thought she was in a dream. The next minute, she hastily corrected the word dream to nightmare, as she glimpsed a certain Arnav Singh Raizada standing at the corner of the window, dressed in his raven black three piece suit, tying the curtains up at the corners. She sat up with a start. And Arnav, noticing that she was up, greeted her with the sweetest fake smile he had given anyone in a long time.
"Good morning Khushi", he said.
"Good morning", she responded to Arnav. "Where am I? How did I get here?" in her typical filmy style, looking around the bed to make sure she was the only one who had slept in it.
"You were peacefully sleeping on a milestone a distance from here, when I spotted you on my way back home. I didn't feel like leaving you there all night so I brought you home with me."
"Thank you. That was very kind of you," she said, distractedly peeping into her blanket to check her clothes. They were disheveled, yes, but they were the same she had worn to work the day before, and her dupatta was still wrapped around her like a shawl.
She remembered taking the rickshaw home from work at night, the rickshaw breaking down halfway and Khushi sitting on the roadside waiting for another transport to show up. Everything after that was hazy.
Amused by her actions, Arnav continued: "I know. It was rather awkward for me too. Kindness doesn't come naturally to me."
That audacious remark brought Khushi out of her trance. She suddenly realized that all this was as real as it could be. But before she could react, Arnav chuckled and continued: "Well Ms Gupta, just in case you've forgotten, there is a designers meeting at 9am today.
"Considering that you are still here at the apartment, just having woken up, I am extremely confident you are going to be late for the meeting. I will be dealing with the issue of non-attendance at work, when you get in, say around 10am when the meeting will almost be drawing to a close. Shall I see you in my cabin at say 10.30 to discuss your excuses as to why you didn't turn up for the meeting today?"
"And why will I be late?"
"Because it is already 8.15 and if you want to make it on time for the meeting using public transport, you should have left your apartment 15 minutes ago."
Not believing a word of what he just said, Khushi turned to retrieve her cloth bag, just in time to see the bedside clock turn 8.19. Hurriedly gathering her things from his room, she was just about to mutter a thank you to Arnav for his act of kindness when he interjected. "And while we're at it, I am leaving right now so I will be more than happy to walk you to your door before leaving for work."
And just like that, he gently nudged her all the way out of his apartment, while she was still trying to process all the stuff that he had just said, frantically glancing at her watch, hoping to turn back time and knowing that it wouldn't work. He casually walked her to her door, made his way to the elevator across the hallway and hit P.