Banner credit: [You are awesome]Chotidesi
Greetings and thank you for your interest.
I am not a writer, although I have tried some with limited success. But this story seems to have a life of its own. It has managed to find a way for me to tell it. So, here I am.
Almost a year ago, I chanced up on Meera30's stories, and fell completely in love with A Words Worth - the story, her characters, especially Arnav, Aman [of course] and Aparna Raizada. I had, in my sincere gratitude, exclaimed that if I ever wrote a story I would dedicate it to her. I could never imagine writing anything that resembled a story, much less anything that came close to her caliber of writing.
So, eight months later, here I am, in total disbelief, offering this story as a dedication to Meera30. I hope my writing, my story is worthy of this dedication. :)
A note about Second Chances
As the title alludes, it is about life, second time around - after chances offered, gained, lost and regained. It is a story about love, loss, grief, bereavement and all that goes with it. And it is also about courage to recognize those second chances that life bestows.
I have to be upfront here and provide a caveat .. if you are seeking to read a one-man/one-woman love story, then this is not it.
I am hoping to and will try to update every Saturday..
Notifications: Please PM me your email addresses and I will send you an email when I update. Thank you. :)
Edited by Mirabell - 2015-02-23T15:35:57Z
Chapter 1: Overture
With his palm fisted, Arnav Singh Raizada found himself poised to knock on the door while his eyes looked for a door bell.
Should he knock or ring the bell?
Taking a deep breath he knocked on the door and rang the bell.
More than ten years since he last saw her.
How could he explain his presence? What was he doing in front of her door?
He looked over his shoulder and found his cab driving away.
He couldn't leave, he told himself. He rang the bell, didn't he? And he knocked. So he waited at the door.
Perhaps no one is home. What was it he felt? Relief? Regret?
Shifting on his feet, he looked around the townhouse. Row houses, lined one after another, not that different from each other on the first look, but full of color. The different colors gave each town home a distinction of its own, he thought. Big bay windows on each side of the front door framed the houses. If he leaned a little, he could look into the house.
Should he look inside?
Before he could answer, he heard quick footsteps towards the door and feminine voice saying, "I'm coming"... "I'm coming".
The door opened to a pair of hazel eyes. Yes, those hazel eyes, with grey flecks, he remembered those grey flecks. He tried counting them once. Now they were looking at him, blankly with curiosity, with no speck of recognition - "Yes?"
"Khushi Kumari Gupta" he found himself saying softly locking her eyes with his.
"Arnav Singh Raizada".. she whispered back as if in auto response. He could see a slow recognition in her widened eyes. Shock draining all color from her face, blinking rapidly and taking quick breaths, she repeated, "Arnav? ASR?"
"Hello Khushi, its been a while." he said, with a small smile.
They stood there lost in that moment, looking at each other. He waited for her to ask him in and when she showed no signs of doing so, he raised his eyebrows and looked at her and at the door.
"Oh, please do come in" she responded moving away from the door, allowing him to step inside.
A few quick steps inside, he found himself squarely in front of books and bookshelves, lined on every wall of the living room. A tan couch with a reading chair placed adjacent to the bay window framed one end of the cozy living room. A rocking chair with a throw was another seating option, positioned conveniently next to the book shelves. It looked like home. Khushi's home. Cozy and comfortable seemed to be the dominant themes here Arnav thought.
He slowly walked around the low rectangle coffee table towards the couch to find Khushi stand next to the reading chair, her gaze assessing him, her eyes still holding remnants of shock finding him, Arnav Singh Raizada, in her living room. As they found their places to settle into, they began to really look at each other, to take note of all that was familiar and to make notes of time's travel on their selves.
Their eyes traveled with deliberate strokes - ten years have marked their blessings on her he noted. Mature curves marked the passage of time adding grace and beauty to her stature. Her waist length hair was shortened and her nose ring glinted. Age seemed to settle on her with muted elegance, he thought. He noticed a thin wedding band on her left hand; there were no other adornments on her.. It was two years since NK... Halting his racing thoughts, he forced his gaze to swing back to her face.
"What brings you here?" She was looking at him with guarded eyes, unsure of her own reactions to his unexpected presence in her house.
Why are you here? How did you find me? Why now? It took me a long time to..
She couldn't voice them, but the questions were falling over each other like a domino set in motion. Throwing furtive glances towards him, quickly picking up books from the floor at the same time, she regarded him.
He was a beautiful man, strong jaw, a straight nose, a perfect profile.
Thick wavy hair framed his face, an errant lock finding its way on to his forehead, which he pushed away constantly. His face was leaner, harder perhaps, with grey temples. His face was one of those that was perfectly portioned, symmetrical.
I remember measuring it.
A small slip of a memory bubbled out of her. Shaking her head to rid of it, she waited for his answer.
"A conference actually, Am here on work. I am staying with Akash" he said. Quickly looking away, stopping to take a breath he continued "And he told me about NK" he said, finally looking up. "I am sorry Khushi, I didn't know.." trailing off, letting his eyes convey his message.
Sorry - a five lettered word weighed down by the enormity of expectation rolled on to itself. A big job for a little word, thought Khushi.
What was she supposed to say? Follow the scripted exchange, say thank you? Thank you for what? For using a five letter word to express regret? Remorse? Sadness?
Khushi looked at the pile of magazines and books that lay next to the rocking chair, as if the chaos and order that these books sat on held answers to the questions blazing in her mind.
Raising her eyes finally to meet Arnav's, about to offer a perfunctory "thank you" when both of them were assailed by a series of staccato rings, in quick succession as if they were Morse code to have the door opened.
"That must be Meera" saying softly, Khushi opened the door when a whirlwind of a small form hurtled itself towards Khushi in a hug.
"Mommy!! Masilav asked me to tell you that you were supposed to call her ASAP. She has something really important to tell you. Sydney's mom wants to know if you can please call her to fix a play day for me, tomorrow, please, pretty please? Is there something to eat? I am starving...Patti is still on her way home walking. And did you know that platypus is only one of two mammals that lays eggs ...oh.."
She trailed off as she caught sight of a silent stranger sitting on the sofa.
Shyly darting her eyes from the stranger to her mother, "Who is that mommy?" she whispered loudly. Before Khushi could respond, the little whirlwind walked towards Arnav beaming at him, seeming to have gotten over her shyness very quickly.
A shock of thick black curls framed a face replete with sinfully deep dimples on both cheeks that formed deep creases on each side of her face. Arnav's gaze was arrested at her bright curious hazel eyes, that he found himself rising from the couch and extending his hand to shake hers.
"Hi, I am Arnav Singh Raizada."
Looking from behind her spectacles Meera's smile slowly transforming to a grin, she shook his hand, saying, "Cool name!" Pumping his hand with all the energy an eight year old could muster, she said, "I am Meera Gupta Krishnan. You can call me Meera, what shall I call you, Arnav Singh Raizada?"
Finally finding her voice, Khushi exclaimed, "Meera!!" Khushi pulled Meera back to herself,
"ASR, this is my daughter, Meera." Looking down at, she addressed Meera gently, "Honey, you should call him Mr. Raizada."
"ASR is fine Khushi. Mr. Raizada is so ... official" said Arnav with a grimace, looking at Meera.
Silence fell awkwardly upon the three assembled like a wet blanket on a rainy day. Seconds ticked loudly while the two adults stood stiffly. It hadn't escaped Arnav's notice that Khushi was avoiding looking at him. He wondered what was going through her mind.
A decade's distance stood between them. He thought he knew her well, even though it was for a brief time and more than ten years ago. But they could as well be two strangers in a room, meeting for the first time.
How does one contend with intimate knowledge about a stranger?
Quickly moving her gaze between her mother and the stranger in the house, Meera asked loudly, "I am hungry. Is there something to eat Mommy?"
Breaking from her stillness, Khushi looked at Arnav and motioned him to join them in the kitchen.
"Toast fine Meera?" asked Khushi while sliding slices of bread into a toaster.
Lemon-buttery-yellow thought Arnav as he stepped into their kitchen. Two bay windows anchored the room with a square shaped dining table in the middle. A low chandelier hung on top of the dining table while the other walls were filled with black and white pictures. He walked towards the pictures to take a closer look at the faces, when he felt a tug on his wrist.
"That's me and my Appa, when I was a baby" smiled Meera, looking at the pictures. "And that's me and my Appa again, he was teaching me how to swim" this time, pointing to the picture frame. "My favorite is this one. I was trying to make a ponytail on his hair. He looks silly" Meera continued with giggles. "Mommy took all the pictures."
Arnav felt like an intruder, trespassing on private memories and moments. With a wistful look he gazed at the array of photo-frames that anchored one side of the kitchen's wall. He could immediately see NK's dimples reflected in Meera's. They shared not only their dimpled smile, but also thick curls that framed their faces. They were a unit, a family. He never gave that word too much thought, as much as he did, looking at those pictures. But then, he never realized that he never had one, with the exception of Mohan.
"Meera, where is your Paatti? Didn't she come back with you?" asked Khushi sliding the plate with toasted bread slices towards Meera.
"Masilav dropped her off near the park, she's walking back home" replied Meera, biting into her toast.
Turning to Arnav, "Paatti means grandma in Tamil. Manorama Paatti is my grandma, she is my Appa's mother. My mommy doesn't have a mommy, or an Appa. Do you have a mom and dad?" asked Meera.
Shaking his head to say he didn't, Arnav was grateful for Meera's chatter filling the silence between him and Khushi. "I don't have parents living either" he replied, his eyes following Khushi as she moved around the kitchen. She was avoiding his direct gaze, he noted.
"That's enough questions for the day Meera. Directing her attention to Arnav, "Can I offer you something to drink or eat?"
"Coffee will be great, thank you. No su.."
"Yes, I know. No sugar. No milk. Just black." Khushi said quietly.
"You still remember?"
Khushi looked up to find Arnav gazing inscrutably at her.
"It's nothing" shrugged Khushi, turning away to reach for a mug. Yes, she did remember. Why did she remember after all this time? She had kept him at bay. In fact she was sure that she had locked him away in the far recesses of her soul that the distance of time erased those memories. But one look at him and the gates she built seemed to crash with memories gushing through the cracks.
"No, its nothing, it means nothing" she muttered to herself. Quickly filling the mug with the dark coffee from the carafe, Khushi handed it to Arnav.
"Am sorry for barging in unannounced like this, Khushi. I just wanted to see you before I left" said Arnav softly as if trying to get past another awkward moment between them.
Taking a sip of from the mug, he could see her struggle.
But then he always could.
He could read her every expression, her every move.
"Leave for where and when?" asked Khushi turning towards him, all her attention now directed at Arnav.
"Leave for Delhi, where I live. I am visiting here for a few days. I told you earlier, I am here for a conference and reunion. I am staying with Akash and I leave tomorrow night."
"Tomorrow night" she whispered, more to herself than for others.
"I didn't know that" she said speaking softly.
"But then I know nothing, nothing about you" she said, looking up. Why did her stomach drop at the idea of him leaving? Why should she care if he stayed or left? He wasn't a part of her life until this morning when he showed up at her door step unannounced. He wasn't a part of her life, period, she thought. Her fists were clenched along with her stomach and she quickly realized that she didn't want to be in the situation she was in right now.
"Why are you here ASR?"
"I told you, I wanted to see you."
"Why? Why now? Why today?" Khushi demanded in a tone that took her by surprise. She didn't realize that her voice had risen and now Meera was looking at both of them. Her eight year old's face devoid of all smiles and dimples, eyebrows furrowed in concern.
What was going on between her normally mild mother and this stranger?
"I am here because I wanted to see you, Khushi. I just found out about NK and wanted to ..." Arnav left the sentence unfinished as he shifted his glance from Khushi to Meera only to find the little hazel eyes behind her spectacles lose their sparkle. With a quick step, Arnav walked to Meera's side, placed his palm over her left hand resting on the counter.
"I am sorry about your father.. your Appa" he said softly to Meera.
"Thank you" she nodded her head, looking away from him. In that moment, he was struck at how much she looked like Khushi.
"Did you know him? Were you friends?" Meera turned and asked with watery eyes.
His heart squeezed at the sight of her teary glance. I am a heel, he thought to himself. "I knew him a little, I am not sure if I would call myself his friend" he said. Fixing his gaze on Khushi he added, "I used to be your mom's friend, a very long time ago."
"You guys haven't met in a long time? Is that why you are surprised Mommy?"
"Yes. That's it. I mean, that's right" Khushi exhaled with relief. Smiling at Meera, she asked, "will you please check if Patti is here yet?"
"Sure Mommy" Meera said and walked out of the kitchen leaving Arnav and Khushi alone.
Slowly walking towards Khushi, Arnav said softly "I am sorry Khushi."
"Yes, you've already said that twice. Thank you".
"I mean, I am sorry not just about your loss"
"What do you mean?"
"For showing up like this, for making you uncomfortable" he extended his hand towards her.
Was he going to touch her?
His eyes held a warmth that she didn't want to acknowledge.
Nervously she said, "I am fine, just fine."
Quickly walking away to create distance, she was about to unload the dishwasher when the phone rang. Looking at the relief written on her face, Arnav took his steps back to the other side of the kitchen, giving her room to answer the phone call. He should leave, he thought. He had no right to stay any longer than he did already.
He did what he came for, expressed his condolences. He could see the visible signs of stress on Khushi's face, tightness around her lips revealing the strain that his presence was creating for her. She was speaking softly into the phone, pushing her thick hair behind her ears. It sounded like a confirmation of a play date for Meera.
Arnav began, "I think.."
"Would you.." Khushi, speaking at the same time, stopped, motioning him to continue.
"I think I should leave now Khushi. Thank you for the coffee" Arnav began walking out of the kitchen.
Khushi followed him, her heart racing.
No, don't leave yet.
Quickly she quelled her thoughts and nodded in agreement. "Thank you for coming."
Standing facing each other Khushi allowed herself to finally look at Arnav. He was a tall man, an easy six feet of frame that reminded her of steel that his pale blue polo shirt and khaki pants couldn't hide. That errant lock of hair settled on his forehead again. He was a beautiful man she couldn't stop herself from thinking that. His eyes could speak a language of their own. Warm caramel to molten honey, she remembered how they changed hues based on his emotions and moods. Right now they were two pools of warm honey, that seemed to offer warmth and something more?
A raised eyebrow brought her back to the living and Khushi realized that she had been caught staring at Arnav. A slow warmth rose from her neck to her face.
What was the matter with her?
She wasn't the blushing kind, but he always did shift her axes.
Feeling flustered she raised her eyes to find Arnav giving her an amused look as if he knew what as going through her mind.
Yes, he did that too. He could read her easily.
Neither had noticed the arrival of Manorama Paatti who now stood transfixed near the doorway, watching her daughter-in-law look alive with color in her cheeks. Her attention moved to the tall handsome man who seemed to have something to do with Khushi looking animated... like she did a few years ago.
Softly clearing her throat to announce her arrival, she said, "that was a good walk."
Bounding in right behind her was Meera who announced loudly to Manorama, "Paatti, this is Arnav Singh Raizada" pointing to Arnav and continued, "He is Mommy's friend from a long time ago. He's here to say hi to us. Doesn't he have cool name Paatti?" Clearly happy with her introductions, Meera beamed a grin to her Paatti, revealing those dimples again.
"Hello." She smiled at Arnav setting free those now familiar dimples in her cheeks. Three generations of dimples, he thought.
"Namaste" responded Arnav with folded hands, surprising Manorama with his greeting. "I was on my way out."
"Oh, if you are Khushi's friend then you have to stay for lunch. No?" Manorama turned to Khushi as if to have her reiterate the invitation.
"Thank you, but no, I cannot stay." Moving towards the foyer Arnav bent to put his shoes on. "I just wanted to.."
"Say hello. Yes, you did mention that many times now." Three sets of eyes, two expressing shock and the third looking confused.
This is ridiculous. Why am I reacting like this? He has been nothing but polite and certainly doesn't deserve any rudeness.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Khushi gave a quick smile to no one in particular to make light of her tone.
"But you should stay for lunch if you can. It isn't anything fancy though, I have to warn you." Pleading with her eyes, she offered a silent apology to Arnav. "Please stay" she said softly.
He nodded quietly with an inscrutable look. "Thank you, I will."
 Paatti is Naani/Daadi in Tamil.
Notifications: Story is being continued on the author's blog.
Topic started by Mirabell
Last replied by Mirabell