Arnav put Khu to sleep in the room they had been given. It was probably Khushi’s room, but he couldn’t say. There was almost no furniture other than the basics ‘ a bed, a cupboard and a desk. Only when he put Khu on the bed and lay next to her, as he told her a bedtime story of a beautiful princess, and a good for nothing prince, that he took in her fragrance from the pillows.
This was most definitely her room. Dai must have made her give her room to them.
His suspicion was confirmed, when he absentmindedly opened the bedside drawer, and found nothing put an old frame, with a yellowed grainy picture of her, with her Amma, Bauji, Buaji, and Payal.
Arnav hadn’t seen her since that time in the hall. She seemed to have gone retired into her own cocoon. He spent all his time talking to Dai, who told him of their life in Shimla. How Khushi taught dance at the school nearby. How she never really socialized, and her life came to revolve around the children she taught.
He had got out of bed, well, because he was stiff, and he couldn’t sleep in Khushi’s house like that. He hadn’t even spoken to her properly; the whole purpose of his visit seemed defeated. Heck, he’d barely seen her.
He tread out of the room wearily, still keeping a cautious eye for Khushi. He went down the stairs, in case someone saw him, he was going to make the excuse of having come down to get some water.
He saw her sitting on the sofa, with her head resting on her hand. She looked so worn out, so torn.
He quietly walked up to her, and whispered her name in hushed tones, “Khushi..”
She looked up to him. She wasn’t surprised. She had expected him. But she looked away from him right away.
He sat beside her. He gently put his hand on hers and stroked it gently.
He didn’t even say anything, but Khushi all of a sudden twisted in her place, and buried her head into his chest and cried. She finally broke down and let it all come out, the tears that had built up inside her over the ears, but she never let surface.
Arnav protectively wrapped his arms around her, as though in an attempt to shield her from all that came her way in the world. Everything would have to go through him, before being passed on to her. No one had the right to hurt her, not anymore.
He stroked her back with his other hand to calm her down. It was better that she let it all out once.
He held her like that, close to him, for a good time, and once her sobs reduced to whimpers, he encased her face in both his hands, and slowly wiped away the drops of tears rolling down her face. He brought his mouth to her forehead and gave her a soft kiss.
“Khushi, shh, there’s no more reason to cry. I wouldn’t let there be.”
He patted her on her back, and rushed to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water for her.
He sat beside her, with an arm wrapped around her shoulders as brought the tumbler to her lips, and held it as she sipped, tilting it as required. He soothingly ran his hand over her back to calm her down.
They didn’t need to speak. Their presence was reassurance enough. Words didn’t seem necessary for communication, not for now. The moment was peaceful, tranquil.
He had pulled her into his lap to calm her, and she had buried her head into his shoulders. The weeping had stopped, he had constantly patted her back, kissed her forehead, tried to reassure her that he was there for her. He had smiled, when she had fallen asleep like that, she looked so angelic.
He breathed a sigh of relief, as everything seemed to be falling in place. He would ask her to come back to Delhi with him tomorrow.
He pulled her into a hug, and lay on the sofa, with Khushi cuddled into him and her legs loosely hanging by the sides.
He felt a sense of calmness take over him, as he drifted into sleep as Khushi’s breathing smoothened.
They lay like that a few hours. There were no worries; he was there with her. Nothing could harm her no more. She smiled in her sleep, a wholehearted smile, after many years.
Khushi woke up to the sound of a crying baby girl, standing right next to them. She fully realized the compromising position she was in as the blurry image of Khu became clearer to her as she rubbed her eyes open. She was lying on top of a girl’s father. She was lying on Arnav Singh Raizada. Realization struck.
She didn’t bother to talk to the baby, to soothe her. There was something about her that instinctively pulled her away from her. It was her relation to Arnav. She immediately gathered herself and fled.
Arnav opened his eyes to sudden commotion. What had happened? Khushi had just been..
A cranky voice, “Da-Da”
Arnav instantaneously got up and sat on the couch, the blurred image of Khushi walking away from him became a clearer vacuum. She was already gone, and he couldn’t stop her. He didn’t know how he’d explain everything like that?
He pulled up Khu into his lap, and whispered in her ears, “What happened to my darling?”
“I am scared.” She rubbed away the tears rolling down her pink cheeks.
“Awe, don’t worry baby, I’ll come with you. And Da Da is right here, why are you so scared?” he said in the voice he did while talking only to her.
Khushi had been standing by and trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. She had to know.
It was wrong, whatever had happened last night? Why had she let herself? No. It was not right. It was out of place.
Her heart tried to defend her actions against her mind. It’s just that, his face, it brought back so many memories. It was with him only, that she’d last been truly happy.
But, it was him, who had taken it all away too.
And now, he’s gone off and married someone else and had a daughter. Why is he here, anyway? And, he had the audacity to bring his daughter. He never cared for me; it was my own illusion, the world in which he did.
He walked in on her in the kitchen. He had tried to look for her everywhere, but Khu had kept him busy. She had finally found some company in Dai, and Arnav was squandering about in the house again.
“Do you need something?” she asked sternly, as if he was intruding into her personal space.
“Dai said I could get some milk for Khu..”
She opened the fridge and poured some milk into the bottle he held in his hands.
She looked up at him, as expressionlessly as ever. “Do you need anything else?”
“No, what I meant to say was, that, Khushi.. ”
“What? What do you want to say Mr.Arnav Singh Raizada? Whose has given you the right to walk into my life again and trample it all over. You don’t know how much I’ve suffered, and finally, when I’ve built something for myself, you come in and walk all over me. Why do you keep doing this? Why? Why? Why?” She didn’t realize when she’d started crying, or when she even moved towards Arnav, and begin punching him in the chest.
He held her hands in his own, and looked down upon her.
“Khushi.. What? I mean.. I thought you’d forgiven me last night…” he answered weakly.
“Ha! Forgiven you? You think everything’s so easy? You walked into my house with your daughter, and you think I’d forgive you? And forgive you for what? For not caring! For being so damn indifferent all the bloody time! Why does it even matter anyway? It’s not like you care. Can you please stop this charade of caring and LEAVE!” she screamed. She walked away from him to the sink to do the dishes.
“Khushi… but I do care.”
She turned around and glanced at him, her vision blurry due to her misty eyes, “Arnav, I think it will be better if you leave, go back to your wife, and child. I can’t bear you here anymore.”
“Khushi.” She didn’t even look at him. It was as if the sound of his voice didn’t reach her. She carried on with her work, ignoring his presence. Yes, she was playing it indifferent this time. At least she was trying.
“Fine, I’ll leave.” He turned around and left from there. He went up to their room, put in the few things he had carried, walked up to Dai,
“We have to leave urgently, there’s some work in Delhi. Thank you so much for the hospitality.”
He touched her feet as a mark of respect, made Khu bid her goodbye. He couldn’t stop Khu from running into the house to say bye to her new Aunty.
Arnav smiled at Dai, as Khushi skid into the house.
She returned with a bar of chocolate, showing it off to everyone,
“Look look, what aunty gave me.”
Arnav plastered a smile onto his face for Khu, and with his duffel bag on one shoulder, held Khu with the other hand and walked down the Mall.
Khushi looked at their retreating forms through he window, until they disappeared in the misty morning. She quickly wiped away the tear that had trickled down her cheeks before Dai saw her.
It was quieter than usual, at Khushi’s house. She’d even tried to ignore the absolutely necessary conversation, about food and all that. She’d not even gone to school today. And, she’d made the pretext of being tired, and retired to her room early.
She opened her drawer, as she wanted to see them. There was an envelope lying, she didn’t remember keeping on there. She opened it. It was a letter.
I don’t know if you want to know all this, but I feel compelled to tell you.
Khushi, a lot happened since the day you left, and trust me when I say this, I have cursed myself every single day, wishing I could go back in time and stopped you.
Khushi, the night you left, Shyam had left the house too, saying he needed some fresh air. All of us retired to our rooms, no one spoke.
I woke up to Di’s screams in the middle of the night. I banged hard against their door, but he didn’t open. Di’s screams were becoming louder. We smelt kerosene, so we had to break into the room. Di was sitting in the middle of the bed, and flames were erupting around her. That devil was standing at the corner, waiting for Di to go ablaze.
We immediately called the police, and Shyam’s under life sentence now. But he said a lot of stuff before that, which has made me regret a lot of my decisions. I could have killed that beast for the stuff he said about you and Di. Khushi, he was a psychopath, and I can’t believe how he spoilt our lives.
Di wasn’t talking to anyone, first I thought she was too shell shocked to speak. She didn’t even cry. Shyam had raped her, and she was carrying his child. I was too flustered, and didn’t know what to do. I was absolutely broken Khushi. Di’s hostility didn’t help much. She had slipped into acute depression. None of our attempts to talk to her, rev her up worked, she would just walk away whenever we did.
She had a premature delivery at around 7 months. I couldn’t believe when the doctor told me after her delivery that due to acute depression, the baby’s development had not been proper, and would need intensive care. Even when we got them home, Di never took care of her, I don’t think she even picked her up once. She cringed at the sight of her. Then one day, Nani caught her attempting to suffocate her. My heart refused to believe it, but it was time to face the facts.
Di has been at a mental illness facility for over 3 years now. I go and see her every week, but there’s no improvement.
Even with Khu in the house, the atmosphere used to be really morose. She’s like a daughter, and I can’t let anyone harm her or even put the blame on got anything that happened, she is just a child.
Payal only did her duties as a daughter in law, and Mamiji’s nagging became more and more annoying, I sent them to Bombay, to handle the branch of AR Fashion there.
Khushi, I have a confession to make, I didn’t look for you the moment I got to know the entire truth, because I didn’t think I could face you. I wanted to lock myself in a room and never talk to anyone ever. But life doesn’t function that way. It has to go on.
I have looked for you since then. I knew it was you anonymously sent money to your family every month, but I couldn’t trace that. And, somewhere in my heart, I knew my presence would cause you too much pain to bear, so I never tried too hard. But then, I saw you in Delhi that day, and I guess I got selfish, with my desire to talk to you. I hunt you down.
Last night, led me to believe, maybe all wasn’t lost, we could have still given ourselves a try. Maybe, time had healed all those wounds.
Khushi, I’m not going to pressure you with anything, since history has taught me, that I don’t make the best decisions. I was going to ask you to come back to Delhi with me.
I don’t know why I keep going wrong, and antagonize you so. I don’t mean to. I truly, do wish you to be happy, even if it has to be without me.
She read it over and over again. She held it close to her heart, and cried. She tossed and she turned in bed, sleep didn’t come easy. She wished, Arnav, I wish you had found me then.
Drops of tears had now left blots of smudged ink on the sheet of paper.
She sat up in her bed in the middle of the night. She had to go, she had to go to Delhi, to Shantivan.