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Chapter Twenty Seven
Hope was soaring today with enthusiasm unparalleled, unlike anything Arnav could have experienced before.
He had just kissed Khushi on the cheek. And Khushi had not protested. She had not run away. She had merely gazed, gazed deep into his eyes, as though searching for something there. And then sighed. As though in weary confusion.
But she had not run away. She had not pushed him away.
Hope performed a string of complicated cartwheels, its wings expanding to shroud the whole room as he slowly released her wrist and she slowly took a step back. Not looking directly into his eyes, but not looking away either. She gestured towards the cup of coffee steaming away on the table beside them. Repeating her plea, this time unspoken.
Drink it up before it gets cold. Or you'll really catch a cold.
She had remembered what he had said in the car. About having a headache. She had been concerned when he had sneezed, concerned that he was getting a fever. She was abandoning, one by one, the multitude of inhibitions that kept her away from him. Making coffee for him even though he had not asked her. Because she cared. She cared for his wellbeing.
Hope beat its wings with gusto, kicking up a fine storm of celebration and ecstasy that could easily knock him off his feet, soaring higher and higher.
The distance between them had not vanished. But at least it had diminished. At least she was closer within his reach now. At least she was no longer running away.
Arnav, too choked to think clearly, to make a witty, teasing repartee, bent over to lift the cup, as though in a daze, and sipped. Over the rim, his eyes strayed to Khushi's face. Chewing on her lower lip, brow furrowed, watching him carefully, uncertainly. Seeking approval, seeking confirmation...
The sharp, tart liquid trickled over his tongue and down his throat, the warmth dribbling over the prickling roughness that had started to gnaw away at him, little by little. As sudden relief swept over him, it was not until he felt his features relax that he realised exactly how much the increasing persistence of his sore throat had been troubling him. He smiled a relieved smile.
And as he lowered his cup, he watched in awe his wife's expression mould seamlessly from uncertainty to relief to gladness, a pleased smile alighting her face before she daintily skipped off in the direction of the door.
As much as he wanted to stop her, his thoughts were far too muddled to come up with something sensible, or even coherent for that matter, to get her to stay. Overwhelmed, her unconscious shows of care, of familiarity, had enthused hope to such an extent the flapping of its wings had become deafening, and Arnav had fallen mute beside it. Even though he had wanted this, had hungered for it, it was enough to shake his being thoroughly, jangling his thoughts, rattling his heart. Before he could completely pull himself together however, a series of sharp raps heralded him.
Blinking in confusion, frowning as he fumbled to detect the source and meaning of that sound, he made out the sight of Khushi stopping in her tracks as she too turned around to face him, clearly perplexed, before she swivelled, her pallu sailing behind her, to face the glass door leading to the poolside. The curtains were drawn.
Khushi half-jogged to the glass door. What with the heady emotions dangling in the air, for which Khushi had neither the might nor the ability to decipher, the sound of the pounding rain, the now low murmurs of thunder, had retreated beyond the recesses of her awareness. Now, however, she could hear the steady patter hammering away insistently on the glass, punctuated by a new sound, a sound she recognised but had not heard till now.
As she swung the heavy curtains to one side, her suspicions were confirmed. Squinting as she attempted to make out the poolside through the misted glass, streaked with tangled webs of water zigzagging this way and that, Khushi could see tiny little lumps of what looked like frosted crystal, lying innocently on the damp tiles just outside the door, shielded from the crux of heaven's assault on earth as it was hosed down thoroughly by the ledge protruding above the door.
It clattered away dully, mere thuds where the capsules of ice bounced on the tiled floor around the pool, where the water seemed to be covered by a pale blue, shimmering casing where the rain pummelled steadily into it. Occasionally a stray piece of hail would ricochet off the walls, or the ground, or simply come hurtling through the air riding the tumultuous wind, and rap sharply against the window.
She felt the bit of curtain she was clasping in her hand tugged out of her grasp as it was pushed further aside.
'You should call Di,' Khushi said suddenly, rounding on him. Somewhat disconcerted by this abrupt declaration, Arnav simply stared for a moment before Khushi, shaking her head a little, elaborated.
'I mean, you should call Di and ask where they are now. Amma and Buaji will be staying at the hospital but the rest are supposed to be home for lunch...but what with this hailstorm going on outside, I don't think it's safe...if they're still at the hospital, maybe they should wait a while before it dies down a little.' And then biting her lip anxiously, 'I wonder if Jeeju is on the way to the hospital right now...'
Just as those last words left her lips, she was interrupted by a cracking noise from beyond the sliding door. The unmistakeable sound of splintering glass, muffled slightly by the rhythm of rain. The two of them pressed against the glass door simultaneously, peering through the translucent drapes of pouring rain to spy out the cause of that noise.
'It's the coffee table!' Khushi exclaimed. Arnav tried to follow her line of vision, and managed to locate the wrought iron stand somewhere to the left of the glass door. It stood silently, solitarily, over the shattered remains of the small, dainty glass surface which used to sit atop it. One half of it clung somewhat precariously, wedged somewhere between the iron limbs of the stand. The remainder were barely discernible, smashed into smaller fragments upon contact with ground.
'You see what I mean?' Khushi's voice shot up a notch, anxiety written all over it, 'Call her!' And when he did not respond immediately, she frowned, annoyed, and huffed, 'What?'
Arnav had been too busy examining the play of light on Khushi's flawless skin. The light captured by the water droplets chasing one another against the glass flitted across her face, like a thousand little gemstones. As she crossed her arms in vexation though, he gave himself a shake, and managed to say 'Thanks.'
Khushi's arms dropped to her sides as confusion replaced annoyance. 'Thanks?'
'For saying Di. You know, instead of Anjaliji.'
As Khushi's lips parted a little in surprise, Arnav slipped in, 'I left my phone in the car- since you decided to take swim by jumping into the rain like that, I didn't have time to pick it up...' he paused as he watched her eyebrows shoot up in astonishment at his words. Flashing her a lazy smile, he began to move towards the cordless telephone in their room.
He could not help but smile as he heard the chiming of her anklets as she hurried closer in her eagerness to hear the phone call. He had already spoken to Akash, who had called to inform him that he had reached the hospital, and judging by the state of the weather, decided it best to wait out the storm before venturing out with the whole family. Nevertheless, the fact that she fostered so much concern for his family- no their family- touched him in ways he could not verbalise. He knew, knew with unshakeable conviction, that with Khushi around he would no longer have to be the only fighter, the sole watchman single-handedly guarding the hub of his world, without a spare moment to breathe.
'Hello?' Di's voice on the other end broke through his reverie. Glancing back at Khushi, he mouthed 'Di,' before answering back.
'Di? Where are you right now?'
'Where? In the hospital, where else?'
'OK, just make sure you stay there until the storm dies down a bit...a hailstorm's just started, and all this thunder and lightning...it's not safe.'
'Haan, haan, Chote,' the laugh in Anjali's voice was evident, 'We already told you we weren't going to come out till it stopped- but I can understand that you want to keep your wife to yourself for as long as you can, so don't worry, we won't be bursting your bubble anytime soon!'
Arnav grinned at that, inwardly sighing in relief, both from the confirmation that everyone was still safe indoors, and also from the incredible accuracy of Di's words. He was certain that, had Di or Payal been at home he would hardly be sharing the same room with Khushi. In fact, he was slightly surprised that Nani had not appeared yet to demand Khushi's time; if he knew the women in his family though, Anjali had in all probability already related to Nani the events of that morning, and since the two of them were so fond of playing matchmakers, decided to leave them alone for once.
'Whatever Di,' he replied, ignoring the giggles his sister was failing to suppress on the other end, 'Just stay safe and call me before you're about to leave. On the landline,' he added as an afterthought, 'I left my phone in the car.'
'Whatever you say, Chote,' Di responded demurely, before cheekily wishing him goodbye and hanging up.
He turned back around to find Khushi still standing where she had been, a few strides away from him, twirling one end of her pallu round and round her finger.
'They're still at the hospital. They'll call before they're coming back.'
'Good,' Khushi replied, glancing briefly in his direction, sounding a little breathless, relieved. Then as she turned back to the door, 'I'm going to Hari Prakashji, to tell him about the table...'
'He can't do anything about it now, though.'
'Yes, but- I thought I should tell him now- I might forget later.'
The music of anklets tinkled and faded away as the door swung to.
'Hari Prakashji!' Khushi called out again, genuinely mystified. She had been all over the house, to the kitchen, the living room, even going so far as to peek into Mamiji's bedroom (where she was reclining with her face smothered in that pale green thing and sliced cucumbers covering her eyes), but found no trace of him. Wondering whether he had been out, maybe at the market, when the rain had started, Khushi was in the process of debating what she ought to do when she heard a shuffle and thump from a door further ahead in the passage she was crossing through. As she neared it, she noted that the door was slightly ajar and dim light was streaming out.
'Hari Prakashji?' Khushi pushed the door gently so it would open.
'Ji, Khushiji?' the bent-over Hari Prakashji straightened up, surrounded by box upon cardboard box that he seemed to have been stacking up on the shelves lining the wall.
It was the storeroom.
'What are all these boxes?' Khushi enquired curiously, as she stepped into the room, smelling very faintly fusty, of unmoving, stale air. She lifted the lid off of one the boxes.
Stuffed inside was a mesh of colourful wire. Confused, Khushi dipped her hand into the mass and lifted some of it up just as Hari Prakashji answered, 'Oh, they are fairy lights.'
On closer inspection, Khushi realised he was right. Indeed, the bright red and green wires had tiny little coloured bulbs strung along their length. She replaced them back to their place before turning to yet another box. This proved to hold even more fairy-lights, except with these ones, the wires were thin and white, and the lights the size of Khushi's fist, looking like cartoonish toadstools.
'All of these?' Khushi wondered, more baffled than ever. Why would any household need so many fairy lights? Her eye roved confusedly over the dozens of boxes either scattered across the floor, or tucked neatly into the shelves. She voiced her confusion aloud.
'We don't need all of them,' Hari Prakashji admitted, unravelling two different strings of light which seemed to have knotted together. Khushi joined in too, reaching for a tangle of colourful strings and a whole ensemble of many different shapes and sizes of lights, 'But Arnav Bhaiyya had these delivered yesterday because he said he was looking for a specific type and he wasn't sure exactly which type he wanted.'
Khushi felt herself freeze, her muscles lock, as the strings slipped out of her fingers and fell back into the pile. Mechanically, she bent over to pick them up again.
'Specific type?' she questioned, her voice suddenly subdued. But Hari Prakashji, in the spirit of conversation, did not notice. He even forgot the death glare he had earned from Arnav the day before, warning him to hold his tongue, as he jumped at the chance to chat with someone without having commands barked at him twenty four-seven, to relieve some of the monotony of his task.
'Yes,' he nodded energetically as he gave up on the entangled mess he was holding and piled them into one box, 'The lights that are on the bedroom ceiling now. You should have seen him yesterday- early in the morning with all these boxes and lights all across the floor...and then he got me to fetch him a stepladder and then he was up there for who knows how long putting up the lights. When I told him we should just get a decorator to do it, he just told me to shut up and get some adhesive glue...only Devi Maiyya knows what got into him...'
Khushi had been hard at work in the kitchen turning out jalebis by the dozen by the time the storm had been appeased enough to allow the rest of the family to return. By the time lunch was over, there was a steaming hot dish mounted high with jalebis seconds out of the hot, sugary syrup, which everyone, particularly Jiji, Di and Jeeju, who had decided to call it a day and not attempt to return to work, appreciated as the perfect remedy to chase off the chill and the gloom the unexpected thunderstorm had tailed along with. Munching on piping hot jalebis and sipping ginger tea, there was a cosy, intimate sense of merrymaking as everyone chattered away in the living room, talking about the storm and the hail and wondering whether to turn the television on to see whether it had done too extensive damage. Jeeju had already described the pitiable state of the streets, with traffic in greater bedlam than on regular days.
Khushi hardly listened. Although receiving much praise for her forethought in stockpiling a hot, sweet dessert to deal with the weather, Khushi could hardly correct those who made that assumption. She could hardly confess the battle of nerves, the pandemonium raging within her, that had finally caused all her control to snap and sent her hurrying into the kitchen to work off some steam pronto.
Now, as she traipsed aimlessly around the house, taking care to avoid anyone she was liable to come across and have to talk to, Khushi was forced to admit to herself that she no longer knew what to think. Every fact was being proven false, every belief a felony. Everything she had labelled something turned out to be something else.
I know I have done so much damage even a lifetime would not be enough to make up for it-but I also know that I can't breathe when you are away, I can't sleep when I think you might leave me. Even the thought of you in pain kills me a thousand times over. So mark my words. Not only will I undo every single sin I have committed against you since the day we met, but I WILL prove to you how much I love you. I WILL win your trust. I will NEVER break it again. And you WILL love me back.
But how was she supposed to believe him? How could someone who loved her ruin her so completely? How could someone who loved her hurt her so many times? How could she trust him? How could she love him?
And whatever was happening now, with the lights, the rain, her saree, his words, the song, his closeness...Khushi felt like a pendulum. Swinging towards hope one second before remembering the bluish black bruises upon her self that still had not healed, and swinging back into the shadows to remain hidden. Like a yoyo, leaping forward into the light, towards the promise of happiness held before her, before being tugged inexorably back, fleeing as she remembered- remembered too clearly- that whenever he had relinquished a little of his armour, he had hurt her twice as much as before.
She didn't trust him. She couldn't trust him no matter how much she tried, she couldn't bring herself to believe him. He could not hurt her so much and suddenly decide that he loved her...
In the space of three days, her life had turned on its head once again. And it only proved, didn't it, that Devi Maiyya wouldn't wait to send out warnings before she changed the geography of life altogether? Hadn't this been happening to her ever since she ran into him? At the fashion show, then at the darga...then in Delhi, where she had come partially to escape the consequences of his rash actions...and here too, he had not left her alone. Fate had made sure that their paths crossed, and kept crossing, who knew why...and now, after having almost everything she lived for snatched away from her, she was being offered so much more on a silver platter. She was no longer the eighteen year old happy-go-lucky girl from Lucknow, dreaming of her prince charming coming to seek her hand riding on a white horse. She was someone's wife. The wife of the last person on earth she would have imagined herself marrying a few months ago.
She was at the poolside. Not altogether clear how she had managed to get there, Khushi welcomed the stinging cool breeze, in the absence of the rain and the ice that had torn through air earlier. It helped keep her grounded, helped keep her from straying into the intricate maze of these thoughts, where one wrong step would lead to her losing her way. She breathed in deeply as she scaled the side of the pool, its normal sapphire tinged a little green from the rain that had seeped off the tiled floors to join it, inhaling in the aroma of damp earth. On rainy days like this, Khushi would have tucked herself into her parent's bed beside Amma, laying her head on her lap as she listened to Amma talk about the vegetable vendor overpricing, or her Bauji's spendthrift ways when it came to his daughters, or what she would do when Khushi got married, how she would handle every single aspect of every single ritual of her wedding.
And here she was, married, without ceremony, without pomp. Without a trace of what she had imagined her wedding would be. Her family had stood in the temple as she made seven rounds, and seven vows, with her husband around the sacred fire, smiling at her. But not the smiles of joy that she had envisioned when they sent her off in her new home. Bewildered smiles, confused smiles...smiles that said they were letting go far sooner than they had anticipated, and did not know what to do about it.
The cry tore through the air as soon as her foot slid over a wet patch on the earth, and she could feel something career towards her even as her foot caught in the hem of her saree, even as she felt herself topple sideways as she lost all hold over herself. As she fell, her mind clinically registered that she was headed straight for what remained of the coffee table, glass shards pointing upwards at her, menacingly, reminding her matter-of-factly that she had in fact forgotten to tell Hari Prakashji, anticipating the needle-points piercing through her skin and the thousand sharp jabs of pain...
...before she was snatched up in one fluid motion and set upright. Before a pair of eyes loomed an inch in front her face, asking her feverishly, 'Khushi! Are you ok? What are you doing out here? What if you got hurt, dammit?'
Her mind, bedimmed by the raucousness of the hundred different trains speeding about in it, noticed, as though from very far away, the terror in that face. Anger that was not anger. Anger that was fear. Anger that was pain.
And then she heard a sharp intake of breath as he suddenly released her.
Khushi snapped back into the present as though breaking into earth's orbit from space. Her eyelids fluttered successively as she tried to bring her vision back into focus, her stomach knotting itself nervously. Something had happened, something bad, she could feel it, feel it deep in her bones...
And then she saw it.
He was gripping one of his wrists, his palm facing upwards...and across it was a deep red gash, blood flowing freely from it, tracing the lines of his palm and staining his skin scarlet.
Khushi felt something sharper than any jagged piece of glass cut straight through her, and pain unlike anything she had ever felt before seized her.
'This might sting.'
Khushi dabbed the piece of cotton wool she had soaked in disinfectant on the cut. As soon as it made contact, he hissed, his muscles clenching under her touch. Khushi felt another sob propel itself from her heart to the back of her throat. Her eyes watered. Something inside her, raw and hurting, stung painfully.
One look at the cut, and Khushi did not know what happened to her. She was aware of seizing him by the upper arm, dragging him with all her might to the glass doors, aware of flinging it open, completely unaware of how the pane shook dangerously as she did, aware of forcing him to sit on one end of the bed while she had dashed about, half gone in panic, frantically darting from one place to the next, to find a pot of water, a clean cloth, the first aid box.
Tears slid silently down her cheeks.
Arnav watched as Khushi's shoulders shook, as she rocked slightly back and forth. Watched as a trail of tears traced a path down the porcelain of her cheeks. As she tried, tried hard, to subdue them.
Arnav knew exactly how she was feeling.
Because he felt the same way.
Because he was battling to keep his tears at bay too. He was battling to keep himself from betraying the fear, the quaking, petrifying, deadly fear, that had seized him when he had seen his fragile little wife, the core of his existence, lose her balance. Had watched, as though in slow motion, the tiny jagged spires of glass protruding, baring their teeth as they waited for their prey. Remembered being plunged into acute blackness, an airless void where he could not draw breath.
You won't be able to stay away from her Chote…because even the thought of her leaving you will take your breath away...
How right Di had been. How right she was.
There were other thoughts, thoughts that threatened to tip over principles etched in granite, mildewed with age, as well. But Arnav struggled to hold them off awhile- he knew trying to avoid them was futile, but he wanted to be alone, clear headed, when he dealt with them. Right now, his priorities lay elsewhere.
He watched her jaw clench tightly shut as her trembling hands dropped the scarlet-stained cotton wool and picked up a roll of gauge instead. As she attempted to unravel it with shaking fingers, Arnav reached out with his uninjured hand and stalled her.
He didn't know what to say.
'Why?' she whispered softly, sounding suffocated as she struggled to speak, 'You shouldn't have done it, you shouldn't have come so close- look how deep the cut is, look at how much- blood-' she seemed to gag for a moment, unable to continue. Instead, she looked on, horrified, at the piece of cloth she had doused to water to clean the wound. Its cream colour was now tainted blood red.
'Why?' Arnav heard himself repeat, and then laughed a hollow, empty laugh, 'Why? Because I could not stand there like a fool while you got hurt, Khushi. That's why.'
Khushi was shaking her head. It caused the flare of anger, so far dormant within him, to flicker brighter momentarily before settling for a dim glow. He would not let his anger get the better of him; his anger was irrational here, it was baseless. Khushi had silently freed herself from his hold, and resumed her attempt to unroll the gauge. Quietly, lightly, she held his hand, palm upward, and began bandaging it.
Arnav felt dread settle into him, like slowly sinking through quicksand. All the joy he had felt earlier that afternoon seemed a distant memory. All the distance between them that had been abridged threatened to yawn further apart, casting her far beyond his reach. And that fear, unadulterated, potent, far more painful than the single shard of glass that had slashed across his skin, made him say what he said next.
'Khushi, I love you.'
She froze. The rocking motion, as she sat across from him on the bed, became more pronounced without warning. Her breathing became audibly shallow. She was shaking her head, as though in a trance, as though trying to clear it, as though not daring to believe...
'I know you don't believe me,' Arnav whispered, voice breaking, all the authority, the emphasis that had been there when he had dictated the same facts last night gone, 'But I will make you. Khushi, I promise I will make you believe how much I love you, trust me, I-'
'No!' Khushi cried out, snatching her hands back from him. Arnav felt the darkness descend again. He was almost sure that the vortex in his heart, missing since last night, would reappear and this time spare nothing.
'No,' she continued, her voice quivering helplessly. Her hands, still trembling, folded onto her lap as she stared hard at them. Arnav could see the tears falling freely from her eyes onto her lap. His heart twisted painfully. 'You can't make me believe...you can't just wake up one morning and decide that you love me! You can't force me to believe you, you can't force me to love you!'
Arnav laughed again. A weary, humourless laugh.
'Yes, I can Khushi. I can force you to believe. I can force you to love me back. Just like you did.'
Khushi's eyes, under a film of tears, snapped up to look at him in disbelief, in shock, in incomprehension.
Arnav was on his feet now, striding away, trying to control his rampant emotions as they rampaged within him, to control the urge to march straight up to her, scoop her up and show her exactly how much he loved her.
'Yes, Khushi. You forced me to love you. I never wanted to fall into these emotional trappings. I knew what it did to people, depriving them of reason, moving them to forget themselves. I've seen with my own eyes how much love can hurt. And I promised to myself that I would never allow myself to fall in love. That it was the ultimate sign of weakness. And it was working very well too. Until you came along.
'Do you really think I simply decided one day that I love you? Why do you think I was so beastly when I was with you Khushi? Why do you think I transcended all boundaries of cruelty when I was with you? Because I was afraid, I was trying to protect myself...from you, from the feelings you provoked in me. Your never-say-die attitude to the world, your dauntless spirit, your ability to find happiness in the direst of situations...you were challenging every principle I lived by. And what was frightening was that you were right. You were proving me wrong, knocking over each and every defence I put up to keep you away. And I lashed out. I lied the bloodiest, most sacrilegious lies, telling you that you don't matter, I don't care, I didn't give a damn, to keep you away but more importantly to persuade myself. To tell myself that you didn't matter when you did. You always did.
'Why do you think I agreed to marry Lavanya? Why do you think I tortured you so much then, Khushi?' he had reached the other end of the room, and no longer relying on his limbs to hold him up, leaned his forehead against the cold, smooth surface of the wall. Everything that had remained unspoken, covered in a coating of dust, was being wrung out thoroughly, hung out for the world to see. 'Because you were getting engaged. You were becoming someone else's. I could not understand- or did not want to understand- why that affected me so much. So I pretended that it didn't. But believe me,' his voice shook, and he gulped in great mouthfuls of air before he could continue, 'believe me, the more I hurt you, the more pain I gave myself. I wanted to punish you- for daring to try to become someone else's, when something in me knew that you were mine. I wanted to punish myself for letting you go. I was a beast, a piece of worthless trash- and I'm so, so sorry, Khushi, I'm so sorry.'
Silence settled into the room like a stranger. It was unbearable.
'And even after I thought I had won- what kind of victory was that? A victory which stole my nights of sleep, which tormented me with memories of you, taunting me with dreams of what life with you could have been. With Lavanya...it was nothing short of a business deal. It kept Di quiet whenever the marriage question would crop up, made her stop Nani's attempts to look for a marriage alliance...but I broke off the engagement with her because I realised I had been using her- to keep off my family, to get at you. I could never live the rest of my life with her, could not share my existence with her...but you...'
Arnav's feet had automatically transported him to where Khushi sat, bewildered, still, hands still folded on her lap, eyes still riveted on those hands. He bent down, down on his knees, and with one hand lifted her chin. Looked straight into those glistening, big, brown-black eyes.
Like looking through fine crystal.
'You made me change my views on marriage too. Khushi, I know we did not get married in the right way- but I like this, dammit, I love it! I like being able to share my life with you, I like you having a right over me, I like waking up every morning to see your face, I like being with you everyday! All my anger, all my wrath, all my hate...you broke through all of it Khushi, and here I am, hopelessly, helplessly in love with you! You didn't intend to force me. But your actions, your words did. And that's what I'm doing now. When I come close to you, when I try to keep you from hurt...I do it because I want to, Khushi, because I care, not because I'm playing a game where I want you to lose. I can't hurt you anymore, Khushi, because when you're hurt it rips me apart! And sooner or later you will see...you'll have to see...that it's true. That I can't- survive- without you. Until then...this pain, this guilt, this regret, your suspicions, your distrust...I'll bear it all silently, as punishment for every horrendous thing I have done to you...I know I deserve so much more but I can't let you go, I-'
He was cut off mid sentence by gentle hand on his shoulder. Wonderingly, he looked up into Khushi's face. She was sobbing softly, her hands now reaching out to grip his upper arms gently with the lightest of pressure, indicating him to get up, to sit back on the bed. Yielding to that pressure, Arnav obeyed, like a puppet in the hands of master puppeteer. Without saying anything, she resumed bandaging his hand.
Arnav felt light-headed. As though the burden of all those thoughts had finally been lifted off his mind. Almost like being drunk. He had just put into words things he had never even admitted to himself. But it was worth it. It was all worth it. Because the space which threatened to stretch between them had abandoned its threat. Because, if anything, his heart knew that Khushi was closer to him than ever before. He couldn't expect her to forgive, couldn't expect her to forget, every horrific thing he had done to her in the past- but he was slowly, surely, atoning for them, and soon, very soon, Khushi would have to see exactly what she meant to him. He would make her love him back.
As she wound the last length of the bandage around his hand and tucked it in carefully, Arnav absently touched his track pants' pocket. Maa's kangans had been sitting there all day, patiently waiting to be slipped onto the rightful owner. Just as he had been waiting, for the right time, the right moment, when he could pass it on to Khushi, when she would truly appreciate its worth, and accept it wholeheartedly. Gauging the situation, he decided he might as well lay all his cards on the table while he had the chance.
Gently holding Khushi's hand as she made to put away the cotton wool and bottle of disinfectant back into the first aid box, he squeezed it lightly. Khushi's eyes, hooded beneath her long, entrancing lashes, looked apprehensively up at him. As he held up the thick gold bracelets though, she flashed him an enquiring glance, laced very slightly with confusion.
'These used to belong to my mother,' Arnav murmured softly, as he lifted up one of her hands and slowly, decorously, reverently slid the first bracelet onto her slim wrist, marvelling at how wonderfully the gold glittered against the milk white of her skin, how the bracelet clung to her wrist in the same way he remembered it hanging from his mother's. A lump rose in his throat. 'And she left them for her daughter-in-law. And I'm sure, if my mother was here with us right now...she would have chosen you for me without thinking twice. That she would have been extremely happy giving you these bangles herself.' He slowly lifted her next hand, slipping on the second bracelet.
He sighed, and slowly raised his eyes to meet Khushi's, feeling his breath hitch as soon as their gazes locked. She was looking- the only word he could find was- overwhelmed. Her lower lip was trembling, her cheeks were flushed, her eyelids fluttering as though she were fighting back tears. But the desolation and dismay which had been etched there before were gone.
'Will you accept them Khushi?' he asked softly, holding both her hands in his as he gazed earnestly into her eyes, 'Maa's blessings?'
And after what seemed to be almost hours, Khushi nodded her head once.
Two requests :)
1) I would really appreciate any and all feedback on this chapter, because I wasn't intending to write all this in one update, but thought I might as well get it over with so I can move forward with the story. So I hope this super-duper long update did not ruin the effect of the individual scenes, and they don't seem incoherent and rushed :s depending on the feedback I might decide to change the chapter, so please let me know if you have any concerns!
2) I would also reeeally appreciate if someone PMed me the letter Arnav's mum wrote for her bahu- in hindi and in english. And I promise to dedicate the update I put that letter in to the person who responds first:) Thanks a bunch!
Please comment !!
I reserve all rights over this work of fiction and request that readers do not reproduce/copy/modify it elsewhere and/or claim credit :)
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