He stomps an urge to giggle seeing his wife's restlessness manifest as continuously shifting in her seat and looking at the ticket stub in her hand and the electronic display in front of them. He had made aware of the lengthy and laborious process of acquiring a new passport that was now a necessity; he was taking her on a honeymoon to a destination he wasn't ready to disclose yet. She had jutted her lower lip in an adorable pout and had asked if he could pull some strings. His solid "no" had reduced the pout to resigned acceptance much to his amusement.
He hands her his tablet and shrugs in response to her questioning look. She is still new to the world of gadgets and high end technology but she is a smart cookie. She learns fast and adapts even faster. He gives her a fond look before turning back to the folder in his hand. He came prepared for the long wait. His eyes glaze over the letters on paper and reminisce the days leading to his marriage.
She had barged into his life in a whirlwind of green, pearls, eyes tinged with fear and softness. Monumental amount drama had followed. His then girlfriend Lavanya had noticed the tension between him and Khushi. Well, to be fair even a blind man could feel the palpable tension between them. Like the cliched protagonist that he was he did exactly what every drama hero did " ignore and act like a douchebag on all possible occasions. Act being the keyword. Khushi however hadn't sat back and respond his aggressiveness with passive kindness and politeness; she went all out alpha bitch mode and put him in place. With passing time, they settle into a pattern of their own. One does something, which makes the other misunderstand or misread the situation, retaliate badly thus ending both of them in misery and heartache till the truth come out. Truth does come out, eventually. Till then it's pining, longing and exchanging long-assed meaningful looks mixed with infinitely gentlest of touches. One such misunderstanding causes Khushi to go mute and avert her eyes. Arnav clamps his mouth shut. Words could never be retracted and the hurt he caused her could never be erased. The scar tissue will make sure to remind him of that. She doesn't argue with him like the way she usually does. She doesn't glare at him like she usually does. She doesn't flail and unleash her anger she usually does. She doesn't use silly metaphors or complex allegories to explain her point of view like she usually does. She mutters "I am done with this shit" and walks away from her. Arnav feels someone took a hammer and hit on all his bone joints. Because it's the first time she has ever walked away from him with resigned disappointment. The next day he had groveled for thirty minutes before she let him inside her house. They spoke for six hours. Three weeks later he proposed and she accepted. Two months later they were married.
He jolts out of his glaze when he feels Khushi elbowing his ribs. She stands up and flicks her long braid away from their resting place on her bosom. They flicker wildly on her back as she walks inside the hall where a man motions her towards a cubicle. Arnav hurries behind her stuffing the folder inside his bag.
The man sitting opposite to them stills for a moment. He looks at the couple and looks at the name of the applicant in Annexure D. It says "Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada".
"Do you really want three middle names in your passport?" The man asks. Arnav searches his face for malice but finds none. The concern is genuine.
"Will that be a problem?" Khushi asks icily.
The man shakes his head. "It's within 75 characters limit. It isn't a problem." He doesn't look at them and continues to fill details stopping every now and then to confirm details. Khushi gives the info robotically. There was something else in the man's voice when he enquired about her name; as if she was doing something unnecessary.
They wait in silence waiting for the documents to be scanned and attested by Khushi. The man is looking at their marriage certificate when Khushi blurts out. "Do you think carrying my name along with my husband's unnecessary?" Arnav looks at her flabbergasted and the man, whose ID tag says Sunil Rao' looks up.
"I am sorry ma'am if you think I insinuated that. There are cases where a visa is messed up because of multiple middle names create hassles during immigration checks." He replies softly. It doesn't calm Khushi. Arnav doesn't know if an intervention is required or not.
Khushi badgers on. "It would be unfair to give up my name because of change in my marital status."
Mr. Rao smiles delicately. "My daughter said the exact same thing."
"But you don't agree." It isn't a question. It's a statement. Khushi looks at him expectantly as he pushes a stack of papers towards her for her signature.
He shrugs but she misses it as her eyes are now on papers that needs her signature. "My daughter says her full name helps her maintain her identity, her individualism and her roots along with what she has adapted to after her marriage. For her the name symbolizes the amalgamation of two families and is proud that she is the one that ties the two."
Arnav notices Khushi's smile as she signs her long name in every paper in front of her.
"That's not your answer." Arnav says. He doesn't have to look at Khushi to see her smile falter. He knows. He doesn't answer immediately. Khushi finishes signing her name across the passport application and pushes them across.
"One doesn't need a name to prove what they are. Their actions will speak of themselves. My wife maintains her maiden name because she couldn't be bothered with the hassles of name changing process after marriage. My daughter insists otherwise. I respect both the perspectives." Mr. Rao's voice is soft amidst the clicks and clacks of keyboard noises.
"As this is Tatkal application, you should be receiving new passport in five working days." The transaction is finished and they are ushered out.
Khushi wrings her hand, her mind running mile a minute but maintains silence. The man's words give fodder for her brain and when she thinks, she forgets the world outside.
Sarawak is Asia's best kept secret, he says. Khushi nods distractedly as her fingers ran across glossy picturesque scene of a beach during sunset. He doesn't wait for her response as he tightens her seat belt. Khushi pays attention to what he is doing and he knows she wouldn't need his help next time around. He would be missing that in future but for now, he enjoyed showing her the ways of things. The primal part of him is satiated when he takes care of her. He wouldn't say it aloud but he allows these little pleasures every once in a while.
Khushi readily agrees his earlier sentiment about Sarawak and adds, "It should remain a secret." She opens the backdoor of their private cottage to step into a lush backyard overseeing the beach. She feels Arnav standing behind her, his chin slowly coming to rest on her shoulder and his arms circling her waist. Khushi shivers when Arnav places open mouthed kisses on her neck. She melts into his chest and allows herself to be carried to the master bedroom. The lovemaking is slow and deliberate. Back at home there was always a risk of being loud or a family member picking up nuances of their nocturnal activities the morning after. It was the open judgment they weren't ready for than embarrassment or the teasing that followed.
Arnav bites her neck and nurses it with a swipe of his tongue. Khushi releases a loud needy moan which stills him for a second. He lifts his head and looks at her half closed eyes. Khushi opens her eyes at the sudden loss of contact and stares at him open mouthed.
"I wasn't aware you are capable of making...sounds," he gushes. It's ironic he should be saying something like that giving the position they were in.
"Our closest neighbors are half a kilometer away from us on either side so that makes us practically in middle of nowhere." The glint in her eyes is challenging. Arnav's slowly growing grin turns feral.
This time she doesn't use a pillow to bite down to muffle her scream. He feels the vibrations of her scream on his chest which segues to a whole new area of pleasures neither had ever felt before. He vows to be an explorer during their entire stay.
He kisses her languidly after rolling off her, Khushi participating lazily. Arnav lolls his head on his pillow to come face to face with his Khushi's face centimeters away from his. The room is bathed in bright early evening sunlight and it's the first time Arnav sees the post coital satiated look on her face. It's glorious and is a thing of wonder. Her eyes close due to exhaustion and Arnav picks the Polaroid camera from the night table and takes a picture of her expression.
The culmination of everything that has transpired between them for the past few hours lies in his hand in muted photograph.
It clenches his heart and the smile on his face hurts his cheeks.
His annoyance is slowly making segue to anger and she senses it even before the transition is complete. She puts her foot down when it comes to wearing what he is suggesting.
"It's part of scuba gear Khushi. It's what you wear when you go under water." He pacifies as if he is talking to a toddler. He holds navy blue wet suit in front of her silently urging her to change. They aren't going to dive more than thirty feet so he believes what he has purchased for her is enough " a knee length sleeveless wet suit.
"It will be tight, too tight in fact." She grouses. Arnav's patience thins.
"That's sort of the point Khushi. To ensure you don't get too cold underwater and your skin stays safe."
"Can't I wear my leggings and a kurta?" Khushi bargains.
"What's the problem with this?" Arnav really wants to know the answer.
Khushi knits her eyebrows and looks at the attire critically. "It's too tight Arnav. I feel exposed."
Arnav looks at her and chuckles mirthlessly. "You don't feel exposed when you wear transparent saris or almost backless blouses?"
It feels like an insult and slap on her face. Arnav has talent to deliver multiple things with his one liner. She is momentarily speechless. She opens her mouth to discredit his accusation but he beats her to it.
"Wear whatever you wish." He says and tosses the wetsuit on bed before walking away without further ado.
He sits on the porch and berates himself for acting childishly. It was summer and thirty feet wouldn't necessarily require a wet suit but he was one of those people who looked and wore the part they were playing. He wonders if insisting his wife to wear something he preferred was cognizant of his own earlier behavior.
He tries not to let pride and happiness show on his face when Khushi comes out wearing wet suit twenty minute later.
"I remember preaching you to wear traditional clothes during festival against your wishes of wearing jeans and a tee. I guess not wearing what's required of the moment would be hypocritical." She says primly.
Arnav laughs heartily and pulls her to him, squishing their sides.
"You are such a hypocritical little shit," Khushi glares at her husband, her skin wet and slightly tanned.
"Look..." Arnav starts but stops when the glare intensifies.
"I could have worn a loose t-shirt and super loose pajama pants and I would have been just fine."
Arnav didn't respond immediately. "I just stuck to what I read over internet. I didn't want you to catch cold or something."
"You wanted to see me in this super tight wetsuit." Khushi deadpanned.
Arnav's ears turned red. "That wasn't my primary agenda but an added bonus."
Hands on her hips, Khushi rallied. "Do you know how difficult it is to get into this thing and how uncomfortable it can get?" Arnav's shoulders slump further. He is surprised when Khushi circles her arms around his waist and runs her closed mouth from his shoulder blade to his ears. Arnav's arms automatically catch her and he starts to tighten the embrace when Khushi steps back. She turns around and starts to walks away leaving him alone on the porch. "I could use some help in removing this wetsuit though..." She yelps when he tackles her and carries her princess style. Khushi looks at him confused when he starts to climbs stairs to the terrace.
"We are practically in middle of nowhere Khushi." Arnav parrots her words from previous day.
Khushi's mirthful laughter echoes through the house.
"Maami, I can hear you clearly even if you don't shout, you know?" Arnav rubs his ear wincing again when Maami repeats the pitch of tone. Khushi rolls her eyes, snatches the cellphone from his hands and puts it on speaker.
"My ears are forever indebted to you," he whispers in her ears earning a hearty giggle in response.
Every member of the family takes turn in talking to them. Khushi ignores his aunt's snide comments knowing that she was being obsessively protective of her nephew. She would haggle with a street vendor for two rupees reduction for a kilo of vegetables but hadn't thought for an extra second when Arnav was searching for funds to start his business. She had gladly given him all her jewelry without asking for anything in return.
When their aunt asks to speak to her alone, she takes the phone in her hand and speaks to their aunt. There is gentleness in the older woman's voice which she has never witnessed before. "Khushi, if I had a daughter of my own, I would have told her the things I would have told you now..." She spoke for several minutes without any interruption. Khushi's eyes were moist by the end and lets out a bark of laughter when Maami easily transitioned to calling her Phati sari.
They call her family too and go through the motion of explaining what they have been up to in Sarawak for the three days. They keep it PG13 for most part except when Anjali and Payal ask for lewd details of the trip.
When the last call is finished, it's already late in evening. They had dived into talking to their families the moment they had walked in to the cottage without bothering to change after hours of walking on the beach and occasional swimming. Khushi had let go of her inhibitions and had worn whatever Arnav had desired to see her in. It was just them, anyway. She allowed him this indulgence in the privacy of the world they had built around them.
"Come on," she hears Arnav say. She is lost in her thoughts and hadn't heard him come in. "We haven't explored the bathtub in master bathroom yet," he says wolfishly.
Khushi raises her arms in a request to pick her up. Arnav grants that request gladly. "Come to think of it, we haven't explored kitchen either."
Arnav's steps halt and looks at his wife scandalized.
"I meant I haven't cooked anything in this kitchen pervert!" She slaps his arm. Arnav rolls his eyes and laughs easily.
They do end up exploring the kitchen next morning before breakfast. It's their last day in that cottage and Arnav ensures its memorable one.
"And here I thought you couldn't do any better Mr. Raizada." Khushi drops her bags on the floor and looks around the cottage they had rented in the rainforest reservation area.
"Do you like it?" He asks clearly fishing for compliments. Khushi stops inspecting the cottage and looks at him with an Out with the real question' expression. "Do you like it enough to go...exploring?" He says sheepishly.
"You are hound," she giggles. "I could use a bath." She grins.
"Did you just call me a dog?" He asks, menacing. She giggles and starts taking long steps backwards towards the master bathroom.
"After five minutes you will be a wet dog," she bursts into fresh set of giggles and breaks for a run, Arnav on her heel.
Their entire trip is planned meticulously and she knows that Arnav has planned all this keeping her in mind. It could have been easily outsourced to one of his assistants or a travel agent but he had arranged for all this with a careful eye for detail.
Her heart swells and she thinks it will burst out of her ribcage with the love and affection Arnav shows her. Sitting in bathtub, he massages the kinks in her neck eliciting a moan from her when the knots in her shoulder loosen. Khushi thanks him, twice.
They spend the afternoon hiking and Arnav refusing to tell Khushi what he had planned for the rest of the evening.
She saw the answer to her question two hours later.
"We are going to a rock concert?" Khushi asked, eyes wide looking at the crowd in front of them. Arnav smiled brilliantly.
"It is Rainforest World Music Festival Khushi where artists play traditional instruments from many parts of the world. I thought you may like this...?" He trails wondering if his presumption too far off. Khushi stands on her toes and kisses his cheek.
"Let's go and have a blast." She drags him towards the center from where they have good vantage of the stage and the accompanying screens.
Arnav doesn't let go of her hand for the rest of the evening.
They walked back all the way to their cottage hand in hand rejoicing the cacophony of different traditional instruments echoed in music.
"Thank you." Khushi, he has come to understand, is truly sincere in her apologies and gratitude.
"It is and always will be my pleasure, Khushi." He doesn't reduce or hype her gratitude to anything she hasn't intended it to be. The rest of the walk is spent in silence and maintain the companionable silence once they are inside the cottage.
Crescent moon peeks from the window next to which she is standing and gives an eerie glow to the forest. Khushi sighs deeply and looks at him.
"I know," he says.
Khushi smiles and bites her lip and waits with a raised eyebrow. He sighs dramatically and makes a grand gesture. "I love you too Khushi." She jumps into his arms in sheer joy and initiates a kiss with a promise to take to all the levels possible.
And she does.
They spend the entire day, a day before their travel, hiking with a bunch of people. Arnav is surprised at Khushi's enthusiasm.
"I didn't expect you to like the forest tour, to be honest." He says when they stop for refreshments on their way back. For the entire day, they were like two friends having a great time amidst nature. There was no intimate physical contact or stolen touches or kisses behind thick foliage. It was an unspoken agreement between them and the companionship they had shared that day had given her another perspective of her husband and vice-versa.
"Why do you think so?" She asks wiping her face and neck aggressively with a wet tissue.
"I thought you were more of a beach girl," he replies with a roguish grin. She slaps his arm in mock exasperation. He shrugs. "It's one thing to go on nature walks and appreciate it but I haven't seen anyone enjoy it as much as you did today."
Khushi smiles in response. "I guess we learn a little more about each other every day." Arnav hums in assertion.
"Speaking of learning, I have mostly known most of your likes and dislikes before our marriage. Now I know every single mole on your body. I know every little pleasure points on your skin. I know all the over sensitive nerve endings which will have you wriggle and moan under me within minutes. But how did I ever not know that you are shit scared of birds?" Arnav bursts into laughter at the end.
Khushi throws the tissue on his face. "They are creepy!" She screeches. "They are giant...flying rats with wings and colors and beaks! It's super scary." She finishes.
"Not even love birds?" Arnav presses.
"My rule is - the tinier the birds are the creepier they are." She shudders at a memory.
Once back at the cottage, they sit on the porch at the back of cottage and eat two bags of chips and trade stories they believe they never told anyone before. They fall asleep on the hard wood floor lulled by the nocturnal noises of the forest. The moment is too serenaded for them to take it to next level.
It's a day spent between two friends reminiscing old memories and making some together.
"It's our last day here." She says picking up a trinket and examining its price. They are shopping for their families, buying random stuff as presents and souvenirs. Some gifts are silly and some meaningful.
He refuses to acknowledge the gloominess in her voice.
"We have some time left," he replies lamely. He could practically feel the roll of her eyes though she had her back to him. She huffs in annoyance but doesn't pursue that train of thought. It's a subject that they have been avoiding the moment they landed.
They walk around the market hand in hand buying trinkets and talking mundane stuff.
"We should do this at least once a year, you know?" He says inspecting a tortoise made of pure jade.
"It will be hard once we have kids." Her response is immediate.
He turns around to see if she is blushing at what they both just insinuated but he finds resolute determination. He looks at her in fondness as he realizes that she was simply being practical.
She wasn't a blushing bride anymore.
"We both have a sister each Khushi. I am sure we can dump our kids on them for a week." He didn't want this to end.
"Or their grandmothers." She snatches the jade tortoise from his hand and keeps it back on table muttering about stupid men buying stupid over expensive useless trinkets'.
"Naani may not be a good idea," Arnav says thoughtfully. Khushi raises an eyebrow at that. "She has a tendency to spoil kids." He answers sheepishly.
Khushi grins happily. "Or we can bring them with us." She supplies.
He looks at her as if she is crazy. "We can all go together for some lame family vacation. That's different and what we are talking about is different."
She laughs and presses her body to his side. "Fine. Let's do it annually and be ridiculed."
He brings his arm around her waist and pulls her closer. "Who cares," he says mulishly.
Khushi silently agrees.
Arnav watches Khushi successfully snapping her seat belt into place. The belt settles neatly below the patch of exposed skin made by her black cotton sari and its matching blouse. The contrasting pink border reduces the intensity of black and makes the sari more feminine. She offers the air hostess a small smile and refuses the complimentary champagne and asked for a soda instead.
"I could have had that champagne you know?" Arnav grumbles. Khushi rolls her eyes fondly at him and tousles his hair. "Do you know what mile high club is?" he asks with a predatory grin. Looking at in flow of passengers, he leans and whispers the answer in her ear and promptly earns a smack on his face by the rolled up in-flight magazine.
He laughs easily and settles back in his seat. She goes back to seeing pretty things on the magazine and wondering if she could make Arnav shell out some money.
Its ten minutes to descent when Arnav slips a small envelope in front of Khushi.
"Open it," he says gently.
A photograph falls out into her hand. A smile spreads across her face when she recognizes it.
A tourist had taken a photo of them during their hike in rain forest. In the photograph they are walking on a thin winding road both laughing at something and looking at each other. It is not just a photo of two lovers or two friends or a newly married couple. It's a photo of all those things put together; they were friends, lovers, husband and wife and future parents.
"Turn it around." She doesn't look at him but does what he says anyway. "What does it say?" He whispers.
"You don't complete me. You remind me that I am already whole." Khushi wipes her eyes and presses her face between the crook of his shoulder and his neck. She presses a kiss and whispers what she had made him say but never uttered during the entire trip just to mess with him.
"I love you." Her voice holds conviction, promise and decision.
"I know," he replies.
Their flight begins its descent.The End.
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