“I am going to go to Lucknow.”
He looked up at her as soon as she said that. The information had just been thrown at him.
“Since I am here, I want to meet Amma, Bauji and Buaji.”, she aid, trying to remember their faces. She saw heir pictures every night before going to bed, but that was it. They had become a memory. She missed their voice and the comfort that came with them.
“When do you want to go?” he asked, suddenly curious. When did Khushi even make these plans?
Sitting with his elbow rested on the armrest, and his chin resting on his right hand. He turned his attention to his plate, but he was mostly just moving the food around in his plate. “You didn’t tell me earlier” he said.
“What? Why? And, I don’t need to tell you!”
He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest, “Khushi, I’m going to come along.”
“I don’t want you to come along,” she reproached.
“But..”, he tried to reason with her. How could he tell her that he didn’t want her to travel alone? He didn’t want to not be with her. He wanted to be with her. Almost, cling to her. The slight fear of losing her, still there inside him, gnawing him.
“I can perfectly manage myself, as I have done in the past,” she retorted. She didn’t want to be attached to him. Not, emotionally, not in any way. There was just too much excess baggage involved.
“I don’t have doubts about that.”
“Then you think I will run away or something?”
“What? No!” What could be done for respite from this spite? He meant her no harm, but how does one undo the harm already done?
“Then there’s nothing for you to be concerned about,” she stated.
With concern visible in his eyes, he stated simply, “I don’t want you to travel alone.” There, he said it. He said as he felt.
“I travelled back alone from Shimla.”
“That was different.” How so? His own mind questioned him. And Khushi was fast enough to verbalize the same.
“I don’t know Khushi! You aren’t travelling alone!” He said in a manner more protective than would have been appropriate.
“I am. And, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Khushi, please.”, his eyes pled with her and a frown flitted across his handsome face.
She studied for a long moment and said, “Fine, come with me, if it means so much to you. Get your ticket booked for Lucknow-Delhi Swarn Shatabdi for this weekend. Are you happy now?”
“What? And, what about your ticket? And why are we going by train?”
“Arnav, I already have my ticket. I was merely informing you. And, to answer your other question, going by flight doesn’t even make sense. It takes longer.”
“What if I don’t get a ticket in the same carriage? But.. wait a minute…”
Khushi just shrugged her shoulders at that. What was she supposed to do? And, why was he even insisting on coming along?
“Khushi, just get your tickets cancelled. We’re going to take my chopper.”
Khushi looked up at him eyes with said don’t try and protect me, I can handle myself.
And he responded with – I want to.
“Arnav, I don’t want you to come with me, and I want you to accept that.”
Arnav sensed the finality in her tone. And, he knew this was something Khushi needed to do on her own. He needed to accept it. He could not force himself into Khushi’s life like that.
If this same conversation, no, it couldn’t even have progressed this way. But, if Khushi had said something even remotely similar to what she had just said, Arnav Singh Raizada would have blown up. That was not way to talk to him.
But, no, this Arnav Singh Raizada, did not have that same amount of pride, at least not when it came to the particular woman in question. We could have even mistaken him for a long identical lost twin of the Arnav Singh Raizada we are familiar with. Just, with a gentler, kinder heart, with the enhancement of the ability to love.
She looked away and picked her drink and swirled it around in her mouth, and Arnav provided her with the necessary relief from the topic. But he asked her something that probably affected her even more.
“Have you informed them?” he asked, changing the matter, avoiding much debate.
“No, not yet” she almost whispered.
He sat back in his chair, with his arms strewn across the arm rests, and with that old calculative, but, a slightly, more concerned look in is eyes, he asked, “Khushi, what will you tell them? Where had you been all these years?”
That was the question Khushi didn’t know the answer to. It is my belief that the truth is generally preferable to lies.* But, the truth would hurt this time. Khushi had made up her mind long before Arnav had asked the question. She was going to lie, that was certain, but, what was she going to say?
“I… umm…” she was stumped, she stammered, she didn’t know. There was no way she was telling them what had happened. She had already pained them enough. It was just the thought of seeing them, which was overpowering her every other emotion. The comfort their sight would bring to her. And the comfort that home brought with it.
A pool of tears clouded her vision, and she muttered, “I just want to see them. I want to make sure they are alright.”
Arnav fisted his hands in agony. There were tears falling down her face, and he wasn’t being able to do anything. Think Arnav. He leaned across the table, pressed her hand against the cool glass top with his. The unfamiliar, yet comforting gesture from Arnav, caused her to look up at Arnav, in his eyes, which were trying to soothe her on their own. “We’ll figure it out.”
Khushi nodded, and immediately withdrew her hand.
Another moment of weakness.
She began gathering herself, opening her purse. “I have to leave now, for the class.” she extended her hand to Arnav, with a bunch of rupee bills in it.
“Are you crazy Khushi? You think you’ll pay for our lunch?”
“I wasn’t going to pay for your share, I am only paying for myself.”
This just wasn’t right. What could be done about Khushi constantly trying to pull away from me?
“No Khushi, please stop this. And, I wiLL drop you.” he said, raising his eyebrows at her, pushing back her hand with the money back to her.
Khushi fell back in her chair, slightly awkwardly. She looked around, avoiding Arnav’s gaze, though fixed at her, but gesturing a waiter to come with the bill with his hand. He placed the plastic card in the little leather case, and as swiftly as the waiter was gone he said to Khushi, “Khushi, there are something’s I need to do. Please, let me do them.”
Khushi looked at him briefly, but then noticed the waiter walking back to them. “I hope you enjoyed the lunch ma’am.” Khushi smiled at him, her formal, and no teeth, smile. But Arnav was the one to say, ‘It was great, thank you.”
They walked to the car in alliance; Arnav even opened the door for Khushi. To his surprise, when he went in and sat on the driver’s seat, Khushi hadn’t even done her seat belt. He leaned over her again, took in her scent, the scent of a woman. There was, a faint pink in her cheeks? Like the olden times? Maybe. A little too faint to notice. But, she let him do it. She tried avoiding inhaling his cologne, but he stayed like that a little long for her to not inhale, and not be noticed.
His musky cologne, seeping through her senses. Slowly. She shut her eyes. The somewhat pleasant memories were now a flurry in her head. Her breathing hitched, as she gulped in a mouthful of air. Ahem.
She cleared her throat, and Arnav suddenly shifted back. Spikes of his air rubbed against her chin.
She again looked out at the not so mesmerizing, but the forgotten images of the wide expansive roads of Delhi, the narrow streets. Children, men and woman, walking, animals, auto rickshaws, buses, tempos, cars, all of them in a cohort. She heard Arnav grumble under his breath. She smiled to herself; it was all a little too familiar.
Once he was settled back in his seat, he inhaled deeply. With a hand on the gear, and the other starting the ignition, a foot on the accelerator, and one on the clutch, he start off.
She flicked the strands of hair falling across her face, and asked Arnav the question she had been wanting to, “Arnav, why? Why do you feel you need to do these things?”
He hesitated for a moment. His grip around the steering wheel tightened.
He glanced at her scornfully, was there really any explanation? Why a man wants to do things for a woman is obvious, but those weren’t the only reason behind Arnav Singh Raizada’s doing, what he was doing. It was to woo back Khushi, the girl he’d nearly lost. It was to re build the lives that had been spoilt. It was a mean of redemption. To redeem himself. To face the man in the mirror and not hate him. He knew his reasons, but what could he say?
“I don’t know, Khushi.”, he restated what he had said,”…… I just need to.”
It was the fact. He needed to, for his own self.
In that moment, even Khushi knew something for sure. Arnav felt guilty to no extent for what had happened, but she also knew, it wasn’t entirely his fault.
There wasn’t any other talk, except the name and place of the school Khushi had to go to. The car came to a sudden halt, reminding Khushi she had to leave. Just as she tip toed out of the car, she turned back to say, smilingly, “I will try and drop in, in the evening, to teach Khu. And, thanks for today.”
*Quote from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, spoken by Dumbledore