The bliss that she believed she owed from every wrong doing and disappointment all through her life was fast becoming a rare commodity in her life. The short life span of her married life had brought enough enjoyment and happiness but a recent tryst with fate was blemishing the purity of it all.
She poured water from jug to a glass and from the corner of her eye, observed her husband laughing at something the woman sitting next to him had uttered under her breath. Sheetal, was her husband Arnav's old flame and newest guest in their family. Something twisted in her gut and before the demons of her insecurities flamed her heart, she admonished herself at the benign implication of her thought process.
She slowly slithered away from the boisterous breakfast when her broodiness couldn't accept the laughter and the brightness surrounding her husband. She walked back into their room and her feet froze when she stood in front of mirror. In the reflection she saw a young woman adorned in colors and accessories with lifeless eyes. Her individuality was her biggest asset and for the first time in her life, she looked at the reflection with less confidence than she generally emulated. She was fairly impulsive and less grounded than her husband was. She hardly showed restrain towards things which got her to react to them more often than naught. The multihued veil suddenly looked too bright and her dozen bangles heavy. A surge of unclassified feeling shot through her spine which made her collapse on the floor.
Her free flowing hair fell around her face curtaining her face and feelings from the world. Tears spilled from the confinement of her eyes and stained the long pleat of her dress. It was her regular style to mix more than three colors in her dress with gold embellishments adorning the borders.
However in that moment, she felt it was all too much. It felt too…overdone.
She picked herself up and shuffled around unable to decipher the unsettlement in her heart. It made her uncomfortable and terribly restless. The chaos in her heart and mind played off with one another – logic cancelled out emotions and suspicion encouraged insecurities.
"Khushi?" Arnav called out as soon as he was at the doorway of the room. He had seen glimpses of Khushi during breakfast but he had lost track of her during conversations. Only by the end of breakfast he had realized that she was nonexistent during the whole thing. It was rarity in itself as she always hovered around him during breakfast, fussing about his eating and cajoling him to eat a bit more than he could handle.
"Are you there Khushi?" He called out again and walked inside the room. He saw her standing by the foot of the bed and lost in thoughts. Her quietness even in moments like these weren't this silent. There was a way about her to be more verbose than anyone he ever knew.
But the quietness about her that day was more of a woman than of the girl he always thought her to be.
"What's wrong?" He asked her softly looking at the torn expression on her face.
She looked at him with a blank expression and took his expression in. Residue of the laughter hadn't fully left his eyes but the knitted eyebrows painted a picture of mild concern. "Do you think I should continue my education further?" She blurted out. The look of surprise on his face matched hers. That wasn't what she wanted to ask but it was the safest question she could. Arnav's temper wasn't foreign to her and something else…made her hesitate.
"You want to continue education? Why?" He asked surprise still evident in his voice.
She raised an eyebrow at that. "Why not?" The temperance in her tone backed him off.
"No…It was just a question Khushi." He said noting white fire in her eyes. "Where is this coming from?" He asked walking backwards to the wardrobe maintaining an eye contact with her.
She sat on the bed, her pleated dress pooling at her sides. "I am at home all the time and it gets a bit boring," she shrugged.
He searched her face for fallacy but found none. "There is enough company in the house. My sister and your sister seem to do alright." He noted. He didn't want to deny her request but he didn't understand the true reasoning behind it.
She was expecting a straight approval without a fuss. One moment she didn't worry about his stamp of approval for her aspiration but she respected the life they shared together. His follow up questions however brought out the side in her which had fought many battles in the past. "Is it a no then?"
"It's not like that Khushi," he said picking up his phone he had left on the dresser. "I just wanted to understand this sudden decision. You can do whatever you want to Khushi; you know that. I would support you in anything you want to undertake."
She smiled then. "Thank you." She said sincerely. He smiled in return. With seven long strides he stood in front of her and pulled her into his arms. He placed a chaste kiss on her forehead and stepped back from the embrace.
"I forgot to tell you this. Sheetal will be staying with us for some days till she can find a place of her own," Arnav said.
"It would be great actually," she replied. Looking up from his chest, she caught his eye and added, "Since you seem to laugh and converse a lot out in open, like today morning at breakfast, it would be good if she is around to induce that in you more often." She said without an expression. Before Arnav could respond, she giggled. "It would be really nice to see you get all flustered in front of your friend. Maybe I will know more about you." She said smilingly. Arnav was conflicted but before he could dissect her expression and words, he heard Sheetal calling him. They were getting late to work. Arnav offered her a hurried goodbye and left her alone with her thoughts.
She sat back on the bed and tried to calm her hammering heart, the smile falling off her face the moment Arnav turned his back. Her fingers brushed her tingling lips which were anticipating a kiss filled with love but were devoid of the same. The passion that seemed to run amuck few weeks before was now abated and almost stagnant. She was wired to laugh and smile on surface irrespective of the ache or pain or conflict in her heart. She had developed the knack of keeping her secrets buried and suppressed without displaying even a glimpse of them through her made up smile or dancing eyes.
Life had taught her well. If you show your emotions honestly, someone one would always take advantage of it. In her case, it would only complicate the situation and break her heart in the end.
His eyes searched for his wife the moment he set foot in the house. He ignored the house help's enquiry and walked past him. Sheetal walked close behind and hugged her son who ran up to her.
"Arnav do you like to…" He ignored his sister's presence, a rarity in itself, and hurried up the stairs. It was in the way their conversation had ended in the morning which had his heart clenched in the arms of unknown talon. An ache echoed through his system for the entire day and no good news abated that feeling. He had splashed water when this restlessness made him snap at everyone in his path and even Sheetal had steered away from his sight for most part of the day. In those moments of solitude, he hunched over the sink and took several deep breaths. Once calm, his mind had easily retraced the source of pain to the incident with his wife in morning.
It wasn't in her underlying subtle hints of dissatisfaction of his behavior but the longing in her eyes which he couldn't satisfy.
He had felt like a loser of epic proportion when the epiphany finally hit him.
Wind knocked out of his lungs when he finally set his eyes on Khushi. Had she turned her back on his completely, he would have never guessed it was Khushi. The off white sari had odd gold colored leaves scattered along its entire length and at a specific angle, they shone. The color was something he rarely saw on Khushi as she wore much brighter colors; colors he believed reflected her bubbly and enthusiastic personality. She had her hair up in a bun, making her neck look longer and slender and was now slowly moving at the rhythm only she could hear. She wore simple thin chain of black beads strangely contradicting the rest of her attire. The bunched sari veil on her left shoulder enunciated her profile and made the femininity tone down a bit. The brilliantly colored dozen bangles on each hand were forgone and were replaced with silver singles. But what took his breath away was a thin of chain of silver adorning her waist. It was incredibly sensual and was loudly proclaiming her amorousness thinly wrapped in innocence.
He breathed throatily he took it all in. "Khushi…" he called fully knowing that she wouldn't be hear him. The massive wireless headphones was sort of a giveaway that she was engrossed in music that only she was party to and this gave him ample chance to observe her without being too obvious about it. The notion of wanting to see her immediately was now slowly fading away as he watched her close her eyes and breathe in the music she was listening to. Though he wanted to go to her and just kiss her senseless, a part of him wanted her and the privacy of the moment she had created for herself to let it be. He stood there by the balcony door and watched her every movement. In less than a moment, she stiffened and shuffled on her feet. He wondered what was going on in her mind then. His pondering was answered the very next moment as she suddenly turned to look straight at him.
His eyes widened at the sudden onslaught of her stare as he hadn't expected her to feel his presence and just turn around like that. But the male ego in him was boosted to exponential proportion at this act. She smiled widely at him and took off the headphones.
He took three long strides to stand three inches away from her. Her anticipatory smile made him shrug the last ounce of restraint and he swooped in and kissed.
Only then the clenching of his heart loosened.
"I missed you," he said taking a step back from her and leaned on the bay windows. She stood in front of him looking much different than she usually did and looked at him with a small smile.
"I saw you in the morning," she said fully knowing what he meant.
"I know…it's just that…" He trailed looking at her unable to explain the feelings. Arnav wasn't a great orator when it came to matters of heart and here he was trying to verbalize his emotions. While Khushi was the most outspoken one between the two was strangely silent.
She didn't say she understood him. She didn't say she knew exactly what he felt. She didn't say that words weren't necessary. In that moment, she wanted to hear those words – words which he communicated with eyes; she wanted those words to be thrown out in the open and for entire world to see. She wanted him to stammer his way into his realization, string those words into a necklace and wear it proudly. She ignored the part of her brain which called her out on this foolish endeavor and told her that what words couldn't do – actions could. And Arnav was always a man of actions. Didn't action speak louder than words?
She admonished that part of her brain. If actions spoke louder than words, then there wouldn't be any words. There wouldn't be poetry or little love notes. Words were as necessary as actions were. Words held a promise.
"There has been so much going on that we haven't been able to spend some time together. It's just one of those weeks I suppose," Arnav tried explaining. "I don't know if I can fully explain to what this is-" he waved his finger between the two of them. "-but I promise you that I will always keep you happy." He said.
"Do you think I am unhappy right now?" She asked. Her voice betrayed her.
"I know there is something bothering you." He said offering her his hand. She took it. "If it's because of Sheetal, then your worrying is baseless." He said gently pulling her. She walked into his embrace without protest and rested her head on his chest.
"It's not worry but a sense of helplessness which overcomes me when I fail to contribute in your conversations." She lifted her up and looked at him. "Sometimes I feel that I don't know you at all."
He simply looked at her face marred with doubt. He didn't have the heart to tell her that she was probably right.
"What were you listening to?" Arnav asked remembering the state in which he found her in. She took a step back from his embrace and smiled widely.
"NK and I went to this shopping mall in the afternoon. We were at a bookstore when NK got bored and left me there to browse and…just hang out. I was checking out a book when this music started to play. I had no idea what it was but I was completely mesmerized by it. After listening to several moments, I walked up to a staff member and asked him about the music. He asked me to go to music section and look for J.S. Bach." Khushi said her eyes sparkling at the memory. Arnav breathed in that enthusiasm. The irritation in his system was already reducing and now a sense of calmness was taking over him.
"So you are now listening to classical music," he said crossing his arms across his chest. She took several steps back and leaned on the adjacent wall. Soft breeze shook the tendrils of hair splattered across her face which she ignored.
There was a longing on her face, a trace of loneliness and a hint of separation. He wondered if he really was a cause of that.
"Did you listen to this kind of music in the past?" She asked him staring at the floor.
"I went through a phase where I listened to music which was written before eighteenth century only – be it Indian or western classical. Anything newer automatically sounded harsh." He said remembering an old memory fondly.
"I think I am in love with piano," Khushi said closing her eyes for brief moment as if relishing an after taste.
"Why don't you take classes?" Arnav said immediately. Khushi looked surprised.
"I'll think about it?" Khushi replied. Arnav nodded. He knew she would dissect this entire conversation a million times tonight and the next morning she would have an answer for him.
"What else did you buy at the mall?" He asked smoothly steering away the conversation from music.
"I bought some books. If I want to pursue my education, I have to brush up a bit." She replied looking at him intently. Arnav knew very well that she was gauging his response.
"Which subject?" He asked instead.
"It's a subject which doesn't need a language. It's called as the subject of the universe," she said grinning.
"Love?" Arnav replied immediately. She looked at him for a second and burst into laughter. He couldn't help but smile at her happy face. "What? You told me ages ago that love didn't need words or language and everyone understood it!" Her dying laughter was rejuvenated at his expense as tears spilled from her eyes. He looked at her, chuckling.
"I meant mathematics," she said catching her breath. "Why would anyone study love as a subject in college?" She asked grinning. He shrugged. When it came to Khushi, all bets were off.
"I hadn't pegged you for a mathematics student Khushi," he replied honestly.
"There is a lot you don't know about me Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada," she trilled and walked past him into their room. "Here, let me show you." She said as she walked towards the table where a huge bag lay. He followed her closely.
The irony wasn't lost on him. Only moments before he thought that his wife didn't know much about him but here he was in the same predicament as hers.
He didn't know a lot about Khushi either.
Before he could comment on the first book he picked up, there was a knock on the door.
"I hope I am not disturbing you guys," Sheetal said walking inside. Arnav belatedly noted that Khushi's face had fell and her smile was tight.
"Its fine Sheetal," he said easily. He had dated Sheetal for quite long and they had parted amicably. He hadn't been the one to cling on to past yet seeing Sheetal had bombarded memories of past on his mind violently. He wished he had that kind of easy relationship with Khushi. Their relationship was built on complicated grounds of misunderstanding, hurt, heartache, mistaken identities, betrayals, harsh words and had at one point ripped the thin thread of fate. They were brought together amidst chaos and violent separation. His kidnapping had put an end to lot of things and she had brashly followed him. Their love was in all these things.
"My son has been cooped inside the house for a long time. I was wondering if we can go for picnic," she asked. "If you have some time, of course," she added for a good measure.
Khushi took a step back and leaned on table and watched the two friends interact. Arnav was always surrounded by an intensity which was now absent whenever he was with her. He had told her that she was his calming force in his life. But when she saw him interacting with Sheetal she saw that there was neither intensity nor calmness about him.
It was familiarity. The sense of familiarity that one gets in presence of another person after a long duration of acquaintance, friendship and…
No, she didn't want to go there. She gently shook her head and realized that the two were still conversing while she was lost in her thoughts. The familiarity was slowly evolving between her and Arnav and she fathomed it would take some time to be truly comfortable around each other. Sex was one thing but to be around each other and go about their daily chores was different. She had seen that in her parents' marriage – the thing that comes from being around on daily basis.
In the first six months of marriage which the world considered as sham, they treaded around each other on eggshells. Now they were accepted by everyone and there was no denial that they were not in love but it still had its awkward moments.
Maybe marriage was about just that.
Exploring and evolving with each other.
"Khushi!" Arnav raised his voice a bit to get attention of his wife who was staring at a spot on carpet with glazed eyes.
"Yeah…sorry…" She said embarrassed.
"Sheetal here is recommending a basketball match. What do you think?" He asked. She forced a smile and nodded.
"Sounds nice," she said for a good measure. Arnav turned around and restarted chatting with Sheetal again.
Had it been any other day, she would have jumped into conversation and spoken much more than either of them. But it was a day which was filled with introspection and yearning for familiarity. She didn't want intensity or immense affection or even kisses or hugs or physical intimacy for that matter.
She wanted just a sense of familiarity when Arnav smiled. But now, all she had were questions. The room felt crowded even though there were only three of them there. She felt all the air was being sucked by the two and they left her void.
"I have to go," she mumbled and walked out of the room without waiting for a response.
A pang of ache swooshed in her lungs when she heard Arnav say, "Sure."
She busied herself in kitchen cooking dinner for the family. The entire process of arriving at consumables which she was fully responsible for using raw materials was almost meditative. Making sweets was her way of unwinding and letting out stress but cooking an entire meal also offered her a comfort of being in control zone. She unknowingly had resigned to the fate of having absolute control on her surroundings and especially her.
She didn't notice that Arnav had followed her out of their room close on her heels. He had let go of social conventions and had forgotten that Sheetal was in room and he was in mid conversation with her. Khushi had walked out from the conversation midway which was a rarity in itself. He had seen the stoop of her shoulder which was accentuated with the lack of her long locks covering them. Her taut figure seemed fluid as she walked out of the room.
That vision of her had been his undoing. An undercurrent of malleable displeasure ran in her system and it seeped through the layers of flesh and bone to been seen in the outer world like a map. He asked himself as he stepped down the stairs, couple of stairs behind her if he really knew her the way he believed he did.
His hands shot through without his knowledge to stop her from walking – the moment strangely felt tragic as he felt she was walking away from him. The wind had left his lungs dry as a bone when a hand stopped him from following his wife. He had turned around in anger only to be face to face with his sister who was looking at him worriedly.
He had turned around to see her walking to the kitchen and him in the opposite direction. It was one of those moments in his life which would perpetually haunt him.
Khushi kneaded the floor putting all her weight on heel of her palm and mixed the floor rigorously. She kept her mind out of the interlude she had with her husband moments before and the transparency of his love. He was always a man of few words and when he spoke there was an inherent insistence to drink it all up.
She looked up from the kneading process and started at the din spreading across the hall. NK and Sheetal were talking animatedly and she knew that the conversation was a funny one by looking at the faces of others. Arnav, who had his back on her, was observing the antics of his family. She looked at his form unabashedly. They didn't have the kind of courtship like most did and even the wedding was like a complex mathematical conundrum.
Her hands mechanically kneaded the floor as her eyes were transfixed on the back of her husband. She had seen her sister's courtship – though not prolonged but one that filled with longing, excitement, passion, attraction and an eventual bliss. She had all of them, of course, but the primary driving factor in her relationship had been an impending doom, cheating husbands, layered ex-girlfriends, social bias and finally – misunderstanding. She was first one to sign on the fact that normalcy was overrated but in moments like these, it made her wonder.
Also it was moments like these which made her head spin, hands clammy, jelly legs and hammering heart. Arnav chose that moment to turn around and look straight at her as if he had sensed her. He didn't look surprised when he caught her staring at him but simply smiled. He turned around and leaned alongside pillar and looked her in the eye. She couldn't help but smile at him and giggle like a girl with a huge crushed when he winked at her across the hall.
A tendril of hair fell on her eyes making her forget about the state of her hands and pushed it back. Arnav chuckled seeing a gash of floor on her chin while she continued the kneading process. Moments later she was slinking in the kitchen, her lithe body moving steadily in a beat only she was listening to. He felt like a predator watching its prey – an innocent creature trying to survive with predators and harsh environment. While predators brought balance to the environment in which they lived, the prey made the environment a place to live in.
Arnav and Khushi's relationship was symbiotic in nature. Existence of one depended on other and sanity of both depended on them being together. Without that, they were shells and poor reflection of the grandeur that they were together.
He gave up being an observer and circumvented around people and walked to the kitchen. Her eyes reflected a surprise when she saw him up close. He walked towards her and smiled inwardly when she stepped back in equal pace. She slammed to the refrigerator door which was in the corner and shielded by walls. They were in their private moment surrounded by warmth of kitchen and no other eyes. He brushed her cheek and dusted the floor. He smoothen the slight furrow of her eyebrows which was permanently etched on her face and kissed the bridge between the eyebrows. She let out a shaky breath when the twin force of the innocent kiss and his palm squeezed her bare waist.
"Let me help you," he said deftly taking apron hung next to refrigerator. She opened her eyes and looked at him with mouth agape wondering what was going on.
"But why…" She asked walking up to him.
"That's because I want to spend time with my wife," he said and turned around. He thumbed at his back indicating loose strings.
"You want to spend time here?" She asked in disbelief and tied the apron strings. In all honesty, she was glad that he was hovering close by but she was sure that these moments of peace would be lost with incoming of one or the other family member. She prayed that it wouldn't be so for a while.
He picked vegetables she had already set out and observed them, "Khushi, there isn't always going to be time which can be set for us exclusively."
She snapped her neck in opposite direction and closed her eyes tightly. He couldn't have possibly read that on her face so quickly. Instead she said, "What should we do then?" She hoped her voice wasn't filled with the emotional concoction that she was brewing. Arnav snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her to him.
"It's like Arrow paradox," he said looking down at her. Khushi looked at him, her face registering a small shock.
"How do you…" She couldn't finish the sentence.
He shrugged in mock exasperation. "I do know a bit of mathematics you know."
She inched closer to him as he started shredding cabbage. "You feel that our relationship is stagnant and motionless. When you dissect the timeline and just take out a moment, you feel that nothing has happened or is happening. But just look at how far we have come, Khushi – how far I have come."
"It's not a paradox, is it?" She asked stepping away from him. She pulled in rolling pin and started on main course.
"It's dogma," he said wistfully. "How do you want the potatoes to be cut?" He asked her.
No, they weren't a paradox. They were just them. "Bite size pieces," she replied.
For the first time in thirty hours, the silence around her was crackling and filled her stomach with butterflies. It wasn't romanticism she was looking for but this togetherness in doing mundane things, everyday things yet making the entire experience powerfully synesthetic.
"Have I ever told you how bad I was in mathematics in school? I distinctly remember this…"
Warmth settled around kitchen as she tuned out the humdrum of the family members and his deep baritone chased out the silence in the kitchen. His words, mixed with cackling of utensils played melancholic tune of nostalgia which made her know her husband a little more than before.
She felt him, then.
Dinner at Raizada mansion was always a boisterous affair. After Khushi came into their lives, the dynamics had changed from a tension filled environment to fairly normal one. But her quietness was disarming even their ever sarcastic aunt.
"You helped Khushi cook dinner tonight?" Sheetal asked, passing a bowl of curry to Anjali. "I shall be eating a bit more than usual then," she added smiling wanly at Arnav. Her words were met with soft chuckles around the table.
"This is the first time Sheetal." Anjali said winking at Khushi. "I haven't seen Arnav being this romantic before," she added.
"That's a surprise," Sheetal said, serving rice for herself. "Arnav cooked this amazing pasta when we were together," she added chewing on a spoonful of rice mixed with curry. She didn't notice the silence which had fallen immediately at the table with its patrons looking at her wearily. "I miss those uncomplicated days of being a student," she said looking at her plate.
"Why did you two break up?" Khushi blurted not realizing the sensitivity of the situation. She flustered when everyone's eyes was on her.
"He didn't break up with me." Sheetal replied looking at Khushi flatly. "It was my decision, actually." Khushi felt her throat go dry as the implication of Sheetal's words her. "My plans and priorities in life were different and it didn't involve me being here in India." she shrugged. "I told Arnav that I had to leave him here and relocate to London and he didn't stop me."
The ease with which Sheetal reprieved the tale of her break-up, Khushi felt that there was something more than what she was telling them. She knew it not by looking at Sheetal but by looking at her husband. Arnav had stilled and was gripping the spoon so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
"How is London?" Anjali asked purposefully changing the subject and making it obvious to everyone to drop the subject.
While everyone else started chiming about Delhi vs. London, Khushi's hands seemed glued on plate and her eyes were stuck on glass of water in front of her. Her husband suddenly felt several miles away from her though he was sitting right next to her.
He never harbored any intentions of breaking up with Sheetal. And the thought left a trail of bitterness in her mouth.
"You have been awfully quiet since dinner," Khushi said folding the sari she was wearing for most part of the day. Instead of braiding her hair, she let her hair loose.
When Arnav didn't respond, Khushi tried again. "Arnav I asked-"
"I heard you the first time Khushi," he said not looking up from the file he was reading. Khushi waited for him to continue and he did. "Your question brought back a lot of memories, that's all." He said finally looking up from file and looked her in the eyes. "I however don't understand why you are so hung up on her," he said thoughtfully.
"I am not hung up on her Arnav." She replied. "I…didn't realize that I had blurted it out…the question just came out naturally, you know?" she replied, blushing due to embarrassment. She bit her lip when Arnav didn't respond or said that she was wrong. His silence told her many things.
"Khushi, it's a fact that Sheetal and I were together. It's a fact that Lavanya and I were together and even lived together for few weeks. I don't see you ever bringing that up. Why does it bother you so much when it comes to Sheetal?" Arnav asked snapping the file shut. His voice had raised an octave and saw that Khushi was staring at him. He stood up and walked towards the door when her voice stopped him.
"You never loved Lavanya. I know that because I saw the interaction between the two of you." She replied tightly. He slowly turned around to see her back covered with long silky hair hiding her back completely. He couldn't even gauge her reaction by reading her body then as the barrier was hiding it perfectly well.
"I feel as if you were waiting for Sheetal to come back and that's why you never blinked when you ended relationship with Lavanya." Khushi said walking towards the bed. As if knowing that his eyes were still on her, she turned around. Arnav was looking at her with an unreadable expression on his face. The tight contour of jaw didn't deter her from ushering the next few syllables that she had been dreading for a long time.
"I don't think you have ever let her go," she said making her fear come out in open and the wound on her heart reopened. The flesh ached in unknown agony when Arnav's eyes lost their focus for fraction of a second and Khushi witnessed it.
"I love you Khushi," he said, clenching his teeth and suppressing the rage he felt in his veins.
"Are you telling me or affirming it for your own benefit" She said fully knowing that she was crossing a line.
"Khushi…" His voice was strangled. He sought out the support of doorframe when her words finally hit home.
"I think it's better to ask and get the misunderstanding out of our way instead of feeding it with half-baked information and misread situations. Don't you think so?" She asked fighting a voice in her head which was telling her to stop this conversation. But her mind or was it heart which was far too gone in the moment and raked up a memory of her sleeping next to the pool.
Trust had always been a touchy issue between them. He had put her through series of pain, mentally, when he thought that she was having an affair with Shyam. He wasn't a man who spoke everything on his mind but in that case, he had believed that whatever he thought was truth. And that misjudgment had taking her sanity as its hostage.
In moments like these the insult on her dignity, the cheapening of her integrity and the dilution of her self-respect came back to her tenfold and reminded her of the moral slippage from the man in front of her. He had come around, no doubt, but the ache she felt was real. The pain she dealt with was real. The constant accusation on her character was real. One couldn't simply erase them all.
It took time, years even, for the scar tissue to grow and hide then wounds inflicted in the past. She loved him and he loved her and it was the biggest dogma of her life. She believed it sincerely though she had questioned it only couple of minutes ago just to push him to the edge. He was the salve that soothed all the pain in her life and made the pain and aches go away.
He was her star – a living and breathing and loving star. He shone for her; she twinkled in his presence and comforted her in darkness.
But now, he was being a douche.
Without much ado, she fell on her side of bed and buried herself under sheets. She jumped slightly when she heard the door bang shut and closed her eyes tightly as she felt him slipping on his side of the bed.
They were in for yet another lonely night.
All through night he could feel her toss and turn on her side and he was exactly the same. Avalanche had settled in his heart and it made him sit up and lean on headboard. Minutes later, he would slide back to sleeping posture and check the sleeping bundle next to him. After doing seven times, he saw her shuffling next to him.
"Can't sleep?" He heard her say. She was completely immersed in blanket and her voice came out muffled.
"I feel like smoking a cigarette," he said with his eyes closed. "The heat would eat away the pain and the smoke would get into my eyes and get the tears out; I don't cry, you see."
"I didn't know you smoked," she said ignoring the latter part of his statement. She threw off the covers from her and turned around to face him fully. "Somehow you never come off as a guy who smokes or does anything…improper. In the beginning I felt as if I had to sanitize my hands before talking to you." She said slowly falling on her stomach. He opened his eyes and turned to look at her. Her hair covered her face and her fingers traced patterns on the bed spread.
"And then you entered my life and saw how tainted it was and how…unclean I really was." His reply was immediate. "I have been thinking about our wedding day. I have never thought about that day till you brought up what followed it, you know?" He said sliding from the bed and walking towards the dresser.
"Why don't you?" She asked sitting up and leaning her back on headboard. Seeing him barraging through the dresser, she asked. "What are you searching for?" Instead of replying, he continued his search and mumbled an "A-ha!"
"I knew I had a stash hidden here," he said coming back to bed with a long packet in his hand.
"What is it?" She asked looking mildly fascinated.
"It's licorice which is sort of a chewy rope. I discovered it when I was very young but really fell in love with this type of candy when I was in Finland. Here, try some," he said and took out a foot long and half a centimeter diameter candy-rope, handing it to her. He looked at her enthusiastic face which was her signature whenever she was excited about something.
The argument was still on but for the moment, they enjoyed silence. It had taken harsh realization for both of them that even companionable silence was a blessing and had to be worked hard for.
"I don't think about our early days of our marriage Khushi," he said licking a finger which was now stained bloody red candy color and incredibly sticky.
She stopped eating and looked at him. "I have gone past the phase of feeling guilty." The candy had failed to sweeten the roughness in his voice. "I always end up feeling that I don't deserve you at all." He added casually. The slack of his jaw and the bobbing Adam apple painted a different picture. She exhaled loudly at his confession but didn't respond.
She didn't know how to or what to respond to a man who was drowning in his own guilt. Arnav didn't stop at that. He took a bite of the candy and chewed thoughtfully before continuing. "You always came off as someone who would be fluttering around and buzzing constantly; a bundle of energy locked up in a jar shining so bright and tinkling merrily. I thought I would burn if I came near you or become insane." He chuckled at the memory of the thought process which had led to this conclusion.
"I thought you were having an affair with Shyam. I thought…rather I didn't think…that the man would be responsible...for…" He couldn't finish. He clenched his jaw and fisted his palm tightly. He closed his eyes to the world and dunked in the emotions which were desperately trying to escape. The breath he held in lungs burned his chest but the soft-cool hands which now stroked his cheeks made him breathe out raggedly. His facial muscles instantly calmed and his fist loosened.
"I need to know the truth today Arnav." She said forcibly turning his jaw to get him look at straight into her eyes. "Why did you punish me the way you did?" She asked.
There were no decorating words, there were no emotional proclamations and there was no crescendo of wordplay. He sticky fingers held his jaw and her eyes held his.
"I love my sister Khushi. I couldn't see her-" She cut him off.
"No bullshit Arnav. Not now. Not tonight. Please." Punctuation was her new best friend. He searched her eyes for something he had once seen. His reflection hurled from her eyes.
It was a night of truths and life's dogmas. Maybe he should rest everything else tonight and just make love to the truth.
Maybe the result would bring them a miracle? He didn't know. But now, he saw her looking at him expectantly for an answer – an honest answer. He couldn't deny her that.
Please, he thought.
"I couldn't bear the thought of you looking at someone else the way you are looking at me right now. I couldn't see someone else other than me making you happy. I just couldn't….you know?" He said biting his lips.
He had spoken more than he usually did and the thought made him sheepish.
"I know." She said softly. He sighed deeply and smiled at the end.
"And that's exactly how I feel now," she said desperately trying to contain the tears. "And I feel I am falling so fast and hard that once I hit the ground, I would be forever crippled and would never be able to recover from it." She bit her lip hard and looked her sticky hands.
She felt him put his arm around her and pull her to his side. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He slid on bed and took her with him and covered them both with blanket. He gently took the licorice from her hand and settled it next to his on the side table and switched off the bed light. She snuggled to him as he pulled her closer.
"I am not going to let you hit the ground Khushi," he whispered in her ears. Removing her face from the crook of his neck, she looked up confused.
"I will catch you and fly away," he said looking down at her. A smile broke on her face and she hugged him tightly, joy bursting through her in the form of fresh laughter. He smiled in return and kissed the crown of her head and closed his eyes. This time, they fell asleep at the same time.
Happiness had been only a truth away.
Her question wasn't fully answered from the night and the way that night had ended had made her bite her tongue and gulp the question which was continually trying to escape from her throat. She wouldn't want the peace that had settled between them for the past couple of day to shatter into a million shreds. She believed him, his words and his promise – not to let her fall. But something twisted in her stomach when she saw Arnav and Sheetal laughing over something mundane though her heart tried to cajole her. Her fear was unfounded but she had seen it.
She had seen them.
She had seen him.
Arnav had been decent enough to ask her thoughts about inviting Sheetal to live with them and left the decision to her. The compulsive need of domiciling in her heart had taken over the logical part of her brain and she had ended up agreeing to the plan.
And now she had herself to blame for her predicament.
"Khushi? Are you listening?" Arnav asked waving a hand in front of her eyes. Khushi shook her head and forced a smile.
"I am sorry, you were saying?" Khushi asked swallowing slowly. Arnav didn't respond immediately but watched her without blinking. Her eyes were glazed and she suddenly felt a thousand miles away.
"I was saying that I can't make it to lunch today," he said sheepishly. When Khushi looked at him blankly, he chuckled without realizing. "You do remember that we had plans dine out this afternoon, right?" He asked her raising an eyebrow. His smile widened when her eyes went wide giving away her secret of totally forgetting their date.
"Yeah, yeah…of course…" she stammered trying to regain the color. She had flushed when she realized her mistake and Arnav's daunting gaze wasn't helping her cause.
"You guys planned a date this afternoon?" Anjali asked walking in to the conversation with a full on mischievous smile on her face directed in its entirety towards her little brother. "Not bad little brother," her voice snarky.
"That is so cute," Sheetal gushed looking at the newlyweds.
When his grandmother joined the bandwagon of teasing, Arnav's defenses were back full on and his good mood already six feet under. "It's just a stupid lunch Anjali. I don't know why you are making such a big deal out of it." The words came out before he could fully process the situation. The suffocation he felt when his family pounded on him had morphed into anger. Without waiting for a response, he left the room in annoyance.
Khushi pulled herself out of sympathetic and pitiful gaze of her extended family and took stairs to the room she shared with her husband. He would be there, angry and irritated and she would try to dissipate the anger and make him see things from a different perspective. It would be like any other day and it wasn't all that new in their relationship. However that moment she felt that each step upwards was taking the wind out of her lungs and when she reached middle, she wondered if she should stop now.
Just stop trying to ensure that everyone surrounding her was happy irrespective of the rumbling in her heart. The nagging need to overcompensate for the non-existent shortcoming that she sincerely believed she had, was now wearing her bones dry. She felt hollow and empty and felt that a void was consuming her.
Being orphaned at a young age, she sincerely believed that she owed her adoptive parents her life and sanity thus making her adoptive family, a priority higher than her own self. With years, the overcompensating nature was programmed in her blood and made her be that way with everyone she came in contact with.
Having Sheetal live in their house was an unfortunate side effect of that said attitude.
The ache of being permanently separating from her parents after their death had left a deep fear of losing people; the fear magnified her overcompensating nature and her general kindness just made her a person to easily get hurt.
She stood in middle of stairs and looked up at her destination. Her tired limbs shook slightly and her head blasted an irritating noise. Arnav's parting words buzzed in her ears in a rapid sequence not allowing her brain to take a step back and really analyze the situation.
She tapped her finger on railing and continued to stare at the top stair and the room beyond. Arnav was in there and would probably be steaming at the way his family teased him a while ago. But what he said had burned her. She didn't like it and she didn't like the way it made her feel.
A voice in her heart, unheard till now, spoke quietly for the first time.
'Is he worth it?'
She closed her eyes and clutched her chest when the thought crossed her mind. A part of her brain screamed at her – he is worth it and so much more! You know it! But this new soft voice was unusually strong and distant. Is he really worth the heartache you go through? Was she really that unimportant person that he couldn't let his ego slide a little and not act like a douchebag?
She heaved noisily as wind escaped the confines of her lungs.
Without much ado, she turned around and climbed down the stairs.
Today, she wouldn't convince and cajole her husband and make him see ways when her own heart suffered in anguish. Today, she wouldn't put on a faade of understanding woman who would say that everything was alright, knowing that everything had probably gone to hell already.
Today, she wouldn't be Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada.
Today, she would be Khushi.
Topic started by RockBarbie
Last replied by Hakuna_Matata11