Like clockwork Khushi's eyes fluttered open & fell spot on over her husband's deep-in-sleep face. His hair was unbelievably ruffled, as if some hands had run through them carelessly, mercilessly & tugged at them to give them the current look of complete dishevelment. His eyes were so snugly closed that his unfairly long eyelashes were almost sweeping his cheeks & his lips looked like they were pouting. Khushi felt her left hand rising up of its own accord to touch those lips. But before she could place the tips of her fingers on those delicious looking temptations, she felt the rough skin of his palm grazing the smooth skin over her ribs just below her left breast, & then grabbing the side of her stomach, he dragged her sliding towards him over the mattress, with the bedsheet getting pulled with her too, & with his entire body covering half of hers, he snuggled his face up against the right side of the column of her neck. Khushi waited carefully, with terror making her heart beat in an erratic taboo against her rib-cage, & she laid there, not even daring to breathe too obviously, let alone move even an inch of a muscle.
After a couple of minutes, when she was sure he was too lost in sleep to get disturbed by her movements, Khushi lightly lifted his right arm, which was draped across her bare chest so snugly as if their skins had somehow fused with each other, & still holding the arm up she wiggled carefully, moving as little as possible & successfully got out from under his weight. She let his arm down & wiggled farther away from him on the bed & when she was sure that none of their body parts were any longer touching each other, she noiselessly rolled off the bed. Khushi moved very methodically after that, as the activities were now a habitual exercise for her for the past two months. She bent down & picked up both their clothes strewn carelessly across all over the room & getting a fresh change of clothing from inside the cupboard, she went inside the washroom to get her morning shower. Khushi got out of the washroom as soon as she could, wearing a hot pink chiffon saree with heavy Lucknowi chicken stitchwork done on it. Her Amma had a saree much like this one too, Khushi thought as she lovingly smoothed her hands down the pleats to set them. Then she hurriedly put on some jewelry, a pinch of sindoor & ran out of the room before it was even 6.45am as if there was a devil let loose on her heels.
Arnav looked at the flawless bloom of rose in front him. It was absolutely, undoubtedly the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. & to think that it had bloomed in one of his plants, he felt truly blessed & fortunate about that. But that thorn! "Tch..." Arnav made a disturbing noise with his lips at the annoying presence of that thorn. Then he heard a creaking noise as if someone sat on the bench behind him & as he looked over his shoulder at the sweet face he knew would be there, smiling up at him, his eyes lit up in a tender smile too. Then he moved away from between her line of vision & the rose, & motioned to the rose with pride in his eyes as he said, "Ma, Isn't it just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? It's for you. From me Ma. & it makes me so happy that I can't even begin to tell you how.." But his mother's soft vague voice interrupted him, "But the thorn Chhote? It's fatal for me. Do you want me to accept the rose with that?" Before Arnav could answer her, he saw his own seven year old self come & sit beside Ma, & looked at his own older self with so much anger, that Arnav felt almost guilty just by looking at that look. & then his miniature self spoke up in a hateful tone of voice through stiff lips, "I would rip off every such thing that has the potential to hurt my Ma!"
Arnav felt himself & his Ma speaking up at the same time, "But if I rip off the thorn, my Rose will bleed out!" & he saw Ma pulling his tiny version up off the bench saying, "Chhote! You can't lessen someone's pain by hurting someone else! & you also can't punish someone for faults done by others. Chalo. Let's go inside. This sun is only making your head hotter." & he saw them both getting away from him with each step they took. He looked at the damned rose again. & then watched the retreating figures, feeling frustrated. God, he wanted to go after them. But he couldn't bring himself to leave the rose. But THAT thorn! Arnav felt so ripped & pulled at different directions, he felt so restless.. He just...
Arnav Singh Raizada got up from his restless dream with a jerk, panting hard, his chest covered in sweat despite the AC in the room being fully on. He looked at the empty space beside him on the bed & then at the clock. It was only 7.15, but obviously if he were to look, he was sure he would find his wife no where around the room, nor the washroom, or the poolside. Hell, he was sure he wouldn't find her anywhere in the whole of the second floor of Shantivan. & that suited him perfectly well also. He didn't want to wake up to her sweet face, that tempting body & all the damning implications they brought with them each day. That would be just too much torture to begin the day with. He flung the covers off of his body with a sweep & got off the bed, not even bothering to drape anything around his bare body, as he knew no one, especially not his wife, was going to make an appearance anytime soon. He went in to the washroom, taking only his towel in with him & stood under the prickling jets of ice-cold water of the shower, praying they would wash away all of the damned memories from his mind too.
But as always, what he wanted didn't happen as a universal rule & the happenings of the past two months started replaying themselves around his frazzled brain. His ultimatum to Khushi had knocked her breath out. & he could see the play of emotions on her face even today as if he was still stuck in that moment. & then she had looked up at him & their eyes had clashed. & Arnav had seen, actually seen, what was going on in her mind, which images were flashing through her brain. It was them. Them, lying on that white rug. Arnav telling her that, his life was barren before she came into it & he'd die if she ever left him. & then he saw her eyes fill with painful tears as if she already felt she was being ripped apart from him & she closed her eyes letting the tears fall as if a dam had just got broken & clutched her fists tightly as if reliving the pain she had felt when she had actually thought he had left her for good. Then she opened her eyes to look straight at his, both pair of eyes bloodshot, one with unshed tears & other with shedding too much of them. & Arnav had seen her answer in her eyes clearly. It just wasn't possible for her to go on living in a world where he wasn't a part of her existence.
& Arnav had moved forward then, took her left hand in an iron grip & dragged her like a rag-doll to the ruined mandap. Then he had issued orders in a steely, ASR patented voice, to Akaash to arrange for a Pandit & all the preparations for the mandap in the next 30 minutes. & then, pushing Khushi down in the low stool without any regard, he had looked at her family huddled in front of the mandap, & bellowed in a thunderous voice that, they also had those same 30minutes he had given to Akaash to get out from his eyesight. & when her Buaji had started to speak something up angrily, he had shouted so loud that even Khushi had jumped up from her whimpering state, saying, "I won't breathe in the same air as the deceitful, adulterous reason for my Ma's demise for long. & if this hall isn't empty of the people I don't ever wish to lay my eyes on again, in the next 10minutes, I'll do exactly what happened to my Di 14 years ago, leave an unmarried bride at the mandap. The only difference being, my Di didn't live under the same roof with the person who left her at the mandap for six months, prior to the actual ceremony!"
The shocked & outraged gasps, that had issued from all of the persons present in the room then, had sounded as if they had witnessed something utterly horrifying or indecent in front of them. Arnav had stood there staring down at Garima with fires burning in his eyes, but Garima only had eyes for her daughter. Khushi had initially looked up at Arnav, still crying incessantly, at his shout, but by the time he had finished speaking, she had lowered her head. Arnav had followed Garima's vision & looked down at Khushi too. She had been looking with dead & bleak eyes at the black charcoals, which had been supposed to be the holy fire around which they would take their pheras. & she had been like that throughout that whole night.
She hadn't looked up when her mother & Buaji had called her name brokenly, before they left with their heads bowed down. She hadn't looked up when Nani & Payal had come up to her to console her. She hadn't looked up when Payal had shook her mercilessly to get up, so that they could both follow their parents. She hadn't looked up when the fire was alighted again. She hadn't looked up when Arnav had taken her hands, & moved her whole body as per requirements of the marriage ceremony. She hadn't looked up during the Grah Pravesh ceremony either. & when she just stood there, not moving a muscle, not even giving an indication if she was even listening to Nani's instructions to kick the rice-pot over, Arnav had just angrily picked her up in his arms & carried her off up to their bedroom.
As Arnav came down the stairs now, ready to go to his office, he thought how his wedding night this time had been so analytically different from the previous one. He had sat on the recliner by the pool all night, tears flowing down his face dispassionately. & Khushi had lain on her side on their decorated wedding bed, not crying a bit, staring ahead like someone in a vegetative state. Now, as he saw his wife downstairs, serving breakfast to his family, he knew she would step away as soon as she sensed him & not come out of the kitchen until he was gone. Everyone in the family knew things were horribly wrong between them. Arnav thought about the irony of that. Everyone thought they were happily married when they were only pretending to be so. & now that they actually were married, in every sense of the word, the unhappy side of it was on show for everyone to see. Khushi would not serve him any food, wouldn't hand him any medicines. She'd stop talking the moment he stepped into a room, & that suited him just fine, Arnav told himself. Hell, she didn't even look at him directly anymore. Except at night, when they were alone in their bedroom.
They had both understood that they couldn't ignore the magnetic pull they felt towards each other as early as the next night of their wedding. They knew they couldn't deny themselves of the relief, after they had already experienced what an addiction it was for both of them. It became that much harder to ignore each other in the small vicinity of their bedroom, after they knew precisely what they were capable of doing to each other. & as soon as Arnav had reached for his wife that night, she had come crashing onto his chest. & it had been like that ever since. Once they retired from the world for the night, someone just had to reach for the other. & the latter would match the former stroke for stroke, with as much passion, if not more. But in the broad daylight, they behaved as if they were complete strangers. Arnav fisted his hands tightly as he remembered, Khushi fled from the bed everyday before he could even wake up properly. Arnav felt his head was about to explode as he looked at her again. Why did she look like only that woman's daughter in broad daylight? He bypassed the dining table in forceful strides & went out of the house, slamming the main door behind him.
Khushi watched him go out with emotionless eyes. She didn't feel too bad about these fractional rejections of him in the daylight. & he rejected her plenty, whenever he got the chance. But as soon as they were alone in their room, he would reach for her before she could even bolt the door properly. & she despised herself for matching him caress for caress, thrust for thrust. It was only when she would look into his eyes, looking down at her with hot passion, but devoid of any love, that she felt the tears filling her eyes. & everyday, like routine-work, she would feel his pounding getting gentler as he would watch the tears trickling down her face. Some days he would brush them aside with the pad of his thumbs, other days he would kiss them away. & then she would see love slowly seeping into those mesmerizing eyes, & gradually he would start making love to her, like people in love did, to his twice wedded wife. & Khushi felt she lived now-a-days for those precious moments in the dead of the night. They would both reach for each other countless times during the night. But as soon as the first rays of dawn peeped through the curtains, Khushi panicked & fled hurriedly from the room, because she knew she couldn't bear the contempt that she would see in his eyes for her & her family, once the world intruded into his mind.