Chapter 12 - Rain
They had set out early in the day though Khushi would have preferred to sleep in till noon on Sunday. It had been a chore thinking where to take a ghost on his first day around the town.
The heat of a scorching June summer during the day was unbearable for her; so they took shelter in a mall and as expected Arnav was not happy. He hated human contact and she'd brought him to the one place where humans would be in droves, on a Sunday, in the summer.
She had decided to get some shopping done while at it. Arnav did sulk but he did it quietly. She explained to him that he will not feel the 40 degrees outside, but she would - that made him sulk less.
A few times, someone or the other would pass through Arnav, given how crowded the place was. The person would feel a cold spot, shiver and turn to look at the empty space beside Khushi. They would then walk away the next second without another thought.
It made her wonder, "Are there other ghosts around whom I can't see?" She asked as they sat in a restaurant for lunch. She took out her earphone, plugged them to the mobile and put one in her left ear.
"What are you doing?" he asked, baffled.
"We are in a public place," she answered, "If someone sees me talking to myself, it will look weird. So this," she pointed at the earphone, "will make them think that I am on a call."
He seemed impressed, "That's smart."
She chuckled, "I saw this in a movie. Anyway, you didn't answer my question - are there other spirits around me?"
Arnav nodded, "Yes, there are. I can't see them clearly but I can feel them."
"That's scary, maybe I am walking through some of them without realizing," she mulled over as the waiter came to take her order.
"To be honest, I have no idea where to take you. It's quite a pressure on me, you know, to take you out for the 1st time." She confessed sometime later, after her order arrived.
"Any place," Arnav replied pointedly, "which is quiet and not swarming with humans, please."
In the evening, she took him to Qutub Minar. The tall monument's vicinity had hordes of people, but the green lawns surrounding it were not as populated. They found a quiet corner and sat on a bench.
The evening sky outside started to turn grey as clouds covered it. It was the middle of summer but it seemed like it might rain. How weird was the weather here, she thought, before turning her attention to the man sitting beside her.
"Is this okay for you?" she asked, fidgeting.
She wasn't sure of his answer "Are you sure? Because I really didn't know what to do. I mean, I usually would have planned a movie and dinner or something but you don't eat and-"
"Khushi," he interrupted, placing a his hand on hers, squeezing it lightly, "This is great. I just wanted to get out of the house and go somewhere quiet."
She accepted his answer. Her eyes went to his hand, placed on hers. He caught on and wanted to move it away when she placed her other hand on top of his. "Your hand..." she muttered, "Everytime it keeps getting warmer."
She moved her palm on the back of his hand. When her eyes found his, they were on her face, moving ever so lightly to her lips (or so she imagined). He cleared his throat and she let go of his hand.
They sat till late evening, in silence.
It had started pouring heavily by dusk. Khushi was drenched wet in the rain when they were trying to find a cab for their ride back home. She was dressed in a tee and a pair of cotton pants, which got soaked in no time. She draped her hand across herself, cursing the unpredictable weather.
Arnav had conveniently turned into his airy form and the water passed right through him. Watching him annoyed her more.
"What?" he asked, flashing a toothy grin. "Would you rather that I get wet too?
She grumbled in response and he could make out some of the words; one of which sounded like "showoff".
They found a small tea stall and stood underneath the blue tarp, which formed the upper head cover of the area. She took her open hair in her palm and squeezed them to let the water out.
"I hate rains," she muttered, looking distant. "You can't go anywhere, you can't do anything. You are stuck, in one place with nothing but time."
Arnav turned his head sideway to face her. There were water droplets on her face but her eyes; her eyes had tears.
"All that time," she spoke still looking at the distance, "to think, to reflect about your life and you realize," she paused and exhaled, "you realize just how lonely you are. In your empty house, no one to ask you about your day, no one to care for you... You feel like you are hexed."
Arnav contemplated her words. Since more than a month now, he had been living with her and yet he had not seen her interact with another human except Payal. Is that why she was so adamant in inviting Payal to the house, to be friends with Payal? The day she hosted her first lunch with Payal and her relatives; she had over worked herself yet she derived nothing but joy out of it.
He put together the small pieces of information that she had knowingly and unknowingly shared with him - her parents had died when she was young, her aunt and uncle never really cared for her, she had been on her own, in everyway the moment she turned 18.
The glasses, the last tangible connection that she had with her parents, the ones that he had broken in his juvenile attempt at scaring her. How hurt she must have been. His apology must have done nothing to soothe the pain.
And what she said about being stuck - it resonated with him. She was trapped figuratively while he, literally. He never realized how it must have been for a young girl, barely an adult, all those years back, trying to make a living for her own-self.
Instinctively, he raised his hand and wiped her cheek. The action brought her back to reality and she looked up at him, eyes even more crowded by tears.
"You are not alone," he spoke solemnly, "I care for you."
"You do?" she asked, her big brown eyes widening in anticipation.
"Yes," he could hear the resolve in his voice. He had been not this sure about anything else in his life.
She sniffled and put up a weak smile, "Thanks."
The hint of smile on her face, made him at ease. What he wouldn't do, a sudden realization dawned on him, what wouldn't he do to see that smile on her face, always...
When the downpour had decreased, they had hailed a cab and reached home, late at night. Khushi took a shower and changed into dry clothes. A little later, she felt chilly, despite of the contrary season and decided she needed a shawl to wrap herself in.
She dug through her suitcase of woolens, which was kept underneath her bed. She dragged the old bag out, sneezing - either due to being wet in the rain earlier or due to the dust that had accumulated over it or due to a combination of both.
On hearing her sneeze and the added noise due to her juggling with the over sized bag, Arnav decided to chip in and help.
She started to protest when he interrupted, "You can see me now, so nothing will float in air and freak you out. A little assistance from someone else wouldn't hurt."
She had stifled a laugh as the ghost narrowed his eyes playfully and easily lifted the suitcase and placed it on a table.
She reheated the left over lunch that she had got from the restaurant, earlier in the day, plopped on the couch with her dinner plate and turned on the TV. It had been a long day and she was tired. Tomorrow morning she had to go back to work - the thought of which dampened her already annoyed mood.
She craned her neck and saw Arnav standing on the balcony, forlornly gazing ahead. After helping her out with the suitcase, he had receded into the balcony. She wondered if it was because of the failure of an outing that they had. In hindsight, she should've planned better. What was she thinking taking a ghost to a mall or a park! She cringed at the lack of thought that she had put to plan for this day. It was a big day for him - to be out after months and she wondered if she had ruined it.
And add to that, her long tirade about rain and loneliness. She had taken his moment of freedom and turned it into a sob story about herself. Why did she have to be so sappy? Never in her 24 years of existence did she ever tell any single soul what was going on in her life. Yet, with him, with a ghost she felt like she could. Like she could tell him anything and he would listen, he would understand.
Her mind went to what had happened next and it made her stomach flutter him wiping her tears and telling her that he cares for her... that had to mean something, right? Or was it just him being friendly and supportive? Was she taking his words out of context and putting a twist to it one that was something more than friendship?
By the time she had finished her dinner, he was still out, looking at the night sky. His back was to her and she couldn't see his face - was he angry or sad?
Bracing herself she called out softly, "Arnav?"
Khushi had thought he would turn to face her; instead he suddenly vanished and reappeared next to her.
The TV remote went flying out of her, "Holy crap!" she blurted, her hand placed on her beating heart, "Don't... do that. Please."
"Sorry," he apologized, "I forgot. I am surprised after so many days of living with me, it still freaks you out."
"It always will," Khushi calmed down and sat on the couch. She patted the seat next to her. He slid on it.
"Is something bothering you?" She asked, without mincing words, "You haven't said anything since we came back. I know I messed up and I am so sorry."
"No, it's not that," he interrupted her apology, twice that evening, "Stop saying sorry. You didn't ruin anything. It's just that... seeing so many people with their families... made me wonder about mine."
"Oh." She felt bad for him.
He continued grimly, "I have spent so many months here, with nothing but mere flashes of faces or voice to hold on. I don't know what's next. How long will I be here? What am I supposed to do? If your theory about unfulfilled desire or purpose is correct then what is mine? He put his head in his hands and shut his eyes. "I feel so lost... sometimes. I wish I would just get a sign or something."
Khushi gently placed her hand on his shoulder. "I understand. It must be lonely waiting for something that is uncertain."
She had been in his place once - many years back when she had just moved in with her Aunt and her aunt's husband.
A child of 4, she would expect her Aunt to show the same love that she had got from her parents - rather the vague memory of love that she had from her parents. Her aunt was a good person who took her in when she could've just left her at an orphanage, but she was not an expressive individual.
A lonely Khushi would wait for her Aunt to tuck her in at night, say something to her in a soothing voice, to calm her, to make her fall asleep. It never happened. As she grew up, her aunt's involvement was limited to buying her the basic necessities and sending her to school. She never applauded her when Khushi won at a poetry competition in first standard; neither did she scold her when Khushi fought with a classmate when she was 7.
Khushi waited for the affection, which never came. Till she snapped out of her dream and realized it was she against the world. She had to look out for herself.
Arnav had seemed to compose himself. He shifted on the couch seat and leant against the backrest. "I am fine." He muttered.
Sensing his reluctance to speak further on the topic, Khushi nodded and didn't pursue it.
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