“Arnav, I want to meet Anjali.” She repeated, as she didn’t understand the inscrutable expression on Arnav’s face.
“You want to meet di?” Arnav asked, slightly dumbfounded, at what Khushi had asked of him.
She gave him a fleeting glance and replied with a stern, “Yes.”
“But I thought. I thought you…. That you…. Don’t you hate her Khushi?”
“Hate is a strong word Arnav. I don’t hate anyone.” She replied as coldly as she felt.
Her icy voice struck him. She didn’t have that chirpiness in her voice anymore, but he had figured that out before. But her voice reminded him of it all over again.
“Khushi, she hasn’t spoken to me in two years.” He began fiddling with the Lego once again, he remembered each time, every week he’d gone to meet her, but no, not once had she uttered a word to him. He missed her. He missed her voice. He missed the way she took care of him, and he missed doting on her. And, Khu’s face always reminded him of her, her smile. She hadn’t done anything to deserve this, had she?
And he hadn’t been a good brother. Even though she’d been the near perfect sister to him, almost a mother.
Khushi smiled at him, it was not an innocent smile, but a dispassionate, mocking one, and “She’ll talk to me.”. She replied innocuously.
Arnav turned to face her, “Khushi.. “
“Khushi, we can only go tomorrow. The visiting hours are only in the morning.” He said, his face with an inscrutable expression of blankness.
“Fine, pick me up from my hotel – Marriott, in the morning, and take me there.” She gave it another thought. “Actually, give me the details, I don’t need to bother you, I can go on my own.”
“Khushi, I will..”
Interruption came in the form of Khu bustling into the room, with someone in toe.
“Arre, Khushi bitiya, what do you want to show me?” Came in a tired voice of a nearly breathless old woman.
Khu looked at Khushi and gave her a big grin before turning and peeking out of the poolside into the room to look at her Badi Nani’s progress.
“Badi Nani, come fast. You walk so slowly, see I am already here.”
The woman staggered to the poolside and took a grip of the door’s frame as the walk tired her. Then her gaze fell upon what her great granddaughter was trying to show. It wasn’t a thing. It was a person.
“Badi nani, this is Khushi aunty”
Suddenly, the old woman’s throat went dry, the pallu that she had clutched onto, to wipe away the sweat from walking, dropped at once; memories from that ill-fated day came back to her in a rush.
“Khushi Bitiya..” She murmured.
Khushi sprang up from where she was seated, across Arnav and went to Nani to touch her feet.
Nani held her by her shoulders, and stopped her from bending. This girl’s place wasn’t in her feet but in her heart.
She didn’t realize that tears had begun to flow down her face until Khushi’s hand came up to her cheeks to wipe them.
“Khushi bitiya. ..” She took Khushi’s hands in her and put them together.
And then she was suddenly bending down on her knees, with her joined together over Khushi’s.
“Khushi bitiya, please forgive..”
Khushi immediately pulled Nani up.
“What are you doing? Why are you saying sorry?”
“Khushi beta, please don’t take this chance of redemption from me. Please, forgive me for that day, let me die a peaceful…”
“Nani!” shouted Arnav.
He then ordered Khu, “ Khu, take Badi Nani inside to her room.”
Khu didn’t understand all that was happening, but she knew that tone of her Dada’s voice, and there were no two ways about anything he asked her to do.
“Khushi, you can stay in the guest room, I’ll get all the arrangements done.” Arnav said once Khu and Nani’s footsteps had become distant enough and he saw Khushi getting ready to leave too.
Khushi looked at him as if he had made the most incredulous suggestion in the world.
“I don’t need your charity Mr.Raizada. Just take me, tomorrow, that’s the only thing I ask of you.”
“Khushi, I didn’t mean it that way.” He said, miffed by her austere response. Why was she so cynical?
“I can’t stay here. I’m sorry. It’s just that… It’s just that.. That this place just brings back too many memories I don’t want to remember. Memories, I don’t have the courage to look back at anymore.” She said, quickly blinking away the tears, as she realized she had hurt him. She didn’t like hurting him, even now.
She rushed out of the room, before she said anything else that she would possibly regret later. She stepped out of Shantivan with a heart as heavy as the one she had entered with. She swiftly marched to the main gate to be arrested by Arnav Singh Raizada in her tracks.
“Khushi, I’ll drop you. Sit in the car.” He ordered as he walked to the drivers seat and flung the passenger’s seat door open at her.
Khushi reluctantly moved to the open door and sat herself in the seat next to the man who always gave rise to a volcano of emotions within her.
“Khushi, seatbelt.” Arnav muttered as he turned to lean over Khushi to do the job himself, it was somewhat of a reflex, whenever he sat with her, because she almost never remembered. Arnav was stunned to see the seatbelt securely fastened around her chest. He looked up to her, his hair brushing against her chin lightly, but she had turned her face the other way, keenly staring out the window, at nothing. His attention was drawn to her heaving chest, as her breaths were almost loud dripping with anxiety, from his close proximity. Arnav immediately pulled himself back, placed his hand on the steering wheel while pulling the gear in reverse and breathed a soft, “Sorry.”
It would have been inaudible to almost anyone else, if they were present in the car, but Khushi acknowledged it with a slight head nod, signifying, it was all right.
“So, Marriott? That’s where you are staying?”
“Yes. But you don’t need to drop me there, just drop me to an auto or a taxi, I’ll go by myself.” Khushi said as she recomposed herself. She had been managing on her own, and she very well could do that even now. She didn’t need no Arnav Singh Raizada to fend for her.
Arnav looked at her with eyes that said it all, it wasn’t that he needed to do it, he wanted to, it would make him feel nice.
They didn’t speak anymore. Khushi kept gazing out of the windows. The Ashoka trees, the expansive roads, the rickshawala’s, she had missed Delhi. Arnav kept stealing glances of her at signals, or whenever the road ahead was clear, he noticed her innocent smile creep to her face as she looked out of the window at the birds, the sky.
The car came to a halt as Arnav drove into the hotel. Khushi quietly undid the seatbelt, and paused for a few seconds after that, waiting for him to say something, waiting for her own self to say something. She unfastened the door lock, and turned to step out of the car, but she held back as she heard Arnav’s voice.
“Khushi, I’ll pick you at 9 tomorrow morning.”