Joined: 01 March 2009
OS ... The Night of the Storm
He stared at his sister in shock. Did she really think things had changed so much between them? But he had never really answered any of her questions ever, had he? He had never felt the need to. Di always understood. Many times she understood better than himself, what he felt. She had told him, before he acknowledged it to himself, that he was in love with Khushi. Then how could she misread him to this extent? How could she feel that he was lying to her? That he would ever feel the need to lie to her?
But she was right in a way, he thought guiltily. He had been guilty of hiding a truth from her, a big truth, one that concerned her and one that she probably had the right to know. She had asked him repeatedly the reason for his marriage, and he had never answered ... because he felt it would destroy her. Instead he had almost destroyed another life ... an innocent one. He had got a second chance with Khushi ... but only because Khushi was understanding and generous enough to forgive him. And also because Khushi loved Di almost as much as he did.
making the same mistake again with Di? Hiding a truth from her because he felt
she would not be strong enough to take it, and ending up punishing Khushi
again? Because Khushi was suffering still ... every single day, she was suffering
... the taunts of his aunt, the silent censure of his sister, the unspoken
surliness of his brother ... being made to stay out of sight, hide behind corners
... If Khushi had been allowed to accompany the rest of the family to the
satsang, none of this would even have happened. He would have come home alone
and waited for the family. Khushi would have returned with the rest of them ... heck, he would have cancelled the meeting for sure if Khushi had been with them all. Her not being with the family had made it easier to follow Di's wish and attend his meeting.
He made one last attempt. More to judge Di's reaction than anything else ... her reaction to a plan he was beginning to formulate in his mind slowly.
"Di," he said slowly, firmly, holding her hand. "Di, do you remember ... it was always you who believed in love. You were always the one who wanted me to fall in love. You said I would know when I found the right person, because my heartbeats would stop if she tried to leave me. Di, that's exactly what happened. Yes. Di, I am in love. And I have almost lost Khushi too many times, through my own stupidity and stubbornness. I cannot lose her again. I love her, Di. Aren't you happy for me?"
She didn't answer, her eyes looking away. Arnav sighed. This was going to be more difficult than he had thought. He stood up firmly.
"For the last time, Di. Aman called when I was barely a few miles on the road to Agra, and told me he had cancelled the meeting. There was a thunderstorm and the roads were blocked everywhere. I thought I'd catch you on the way to the satsang, but I couldn't get through to Akash. I'd had a ... Khushi was ... I knew Khushi was alone at home, there was a storm coming and she hates storms. I knew she would be freaking out at home alone, so I wanted to distract her."
He saw Anjali flinch every time he mentioned Khushi. But this had to be done.
"So I came home. On the way, I told Aman to get the flowers sent home. When I got home, I switched off the main lights and put the flowers for her. She got even more scared with the lights off ... and then she found me."
Anjali didn't say a word.
Arnav continued firmly.
"We've been through hell and back in the last fifteen days, Di. She has been through hell, trying to keep all this from you and the rest of the family, worrying herself sick how you would react, especially in this state, and trying to find me in time. I know this is a tough time for you, but you have me, Akash, Mami and Nani for support. Khushi has only me. And she needs me as much as you do right now."
Anjali looked up at him at that.
"As much as I do, Chotey? My husband has been thrown out of the house, you threw him out on the urging of your wife, and we don't have any proof as to whether he even did what she said he did. I have no husband, and a baby on the way. Don't I need you the most right now? Don't I deserve to have you with me right now? After all we have been through ...?"
He sighed. Had his sister always been this self-absorbed? So weak, so clingy? So unwilling to look at anyone else's needs other than her own?
Then he chided himself. She didn't know the entire truth about Shyam, the one he had known for months. She didn't know the horrors of the last fifteen days, the ones Khushi had seen for herself ... the dirty warehouses, the thick ropes, the bruises on his arms and legs, the kerosene cans carrying his death sentence, which Khushi had switched at the last minute ... she hadn't seen Khushi fall over the edge of a cliff, and lie lifeless in his arms ... even the thought of those moments made him shudder.
"You do have me, Di," he repeated with all the patience he could muster. "I am always with you, you know that. And you have all of us ... Nani, Mama Mami, Akash, Payal ... all of us are here for you. You have a baby on the way, a baby who will receive all the love and care this house has to offer. Shyam was a bad dream, Di .. I know it's hard, but you have to move on ... count your blessings and look forward now ..."
"You're speaking in her words now," Anjali interrupted bitterly. "I should have known. That's exactly what she said to me, and that's exactly what you're saying too. You have changed, Chotey. You're no longer my Chotey. You're just ... her husband."
He stared at his sister appalled. Was he more appalled at her bitterness towards Khushi, or at hearing finally what Khushi had said to her that day? And for that, he had blamed Khushi so much, told her she was the cause of his sister's problems? He felt even more of a heel. Khushi had been Khushi, trying to make Di understand and do what she, Khushi, did best ... pick herself up and move forward. But Di wasn't ready for that yet.
And maybe she never would be. Because Di didn't have Khushi's strength. Her spirit. The indomitable spirit, the fire that made Khushi his soulmate.
"Yes," he said firmly, holding his sister's eyes. "Yes, I'm Khushi's husband, Di. You must be tired. Go to sleep. I'll shut the door on my way out."
He went to find Khushi. He knew she was upset, and for the first time, he had dimly started to understand what she was so upset about. A quick search of the kitchen, the bedroom and bathroom was fruitless. Then he muttered, 'Of course!' and opened the glass doors leading to the poolside.
And she was there. Looking up at the thudding storm clouds blowing across the indigo sky, her hair blowing in silken strands around her face with the gusting wind. Her face calm, but her eyes tormented.
He came up behind her and held her against him, back to chest, his arms firm around her waist. She had been holding herself tensely, but as he pulled her close, she let out a soft sigh and began to relax into his embrace.
'Tum theek ho?'
She nodded mutely. When had she ever said, No, she wasn't all right? Only on one momentous occasion ... he remembered it and held her tighter still.
'Is Di all right?' she asked in a low voice. He nodded, his lips against her hair. She turned her face to look at him.
'She's not, is she?' she accused. 'Why did you come back, Arnavji? You need to stay with her for a while. You should ...'
'She's going to sleep,' he interrupted. "And I think that's the best thing for her right now. She'll be all right, Khushi. Relax."
"You should have gone for the satsang," she said worriedly. "I was perfectly all right at home ..."
She stopped in confusion at the sideways grin on his face.
"Were you really?" he asked softly, in that husky tone of voice that always did unimaginable things to her insides, made her feel she was melting slowly away. She bit her lip slightly and he grinned before he continued seriously, "Khushi, I told Di the truth. I really had no idea where they were. They were on the road, I couldn't contact Akash ... they could have been anywhere. That was why I came home instead."
"And those flowers?" she accused. He grinned again.
"Oh, those were for a challenge that I had to win. Which I did. Fair and square."
He pulled her closer to him again, as though to let her know without words, what exactly he had won. She blushed in the dark. Then he felt her tense against him, and waited for what he knew was coming, had known would come ever since he saw her quick, embarrassed attempts to push the red carpet out of sight.
'Arnav," she began slowly, hesitantly. 'Don't you think I should go to ...?'
"Khushi," he said warningly. "Remember what I told you that day. You're not going anywhere. The more you try to leave, the more I will force you to stay. So don't even think about it."
'No, but listen to me,' she begged softly, unhappily. "Di is unhappy, and she wants your time, your attention. I have to leave after two months anyway, why don't I leave now and ...?"
He stopped her with a finger on her lips.
"Who said you have to leave after two months?"
She stared at him.
'Who ... ? You did ... you said this was a contract marr ..."
"Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada," he interrupted, letting the full name spill lazily out into the night, and emphasizing the last two words, 'A short while ago, you lost a challenge. You said you wouldn't accept me as your husband in this lifetime. You lost. I won. I'm your husband for life. This life, that is. We'll negotiate the next six in the next challenge. Get it? You're not going anywhere."
She turned fully around in his arms and stared at him, and he saw the doe eyes fill with tears. And then she flung her arms around his neck tightly, convulsively, holding on to him with such force that he took a step backwards, before he stabilized himself and put his arms around her equally tightly, holding her so close that even a whisper of wind couldn't find its way between their bodies. And he felt her body shudder, racked with sobs ... and he realized dimly what had been troubling her so much all the while. And felt like kicking himself ... hard ... for hurting her yet again.
He lifted her face to his, cupping her wet cheek lovingly.
"You're my wife, Mrs Arnav Singh Raizada. For life."
And as she nodded, her lips trembled, her smile breaking through the tears, like a beam of pure silver moonlight through the dark storm clouds in the sky, lighting up the night. And he did what he had been wanting to do since last Diwali night, ... or even longer, since the day she had tumbled off a fashion runway into his arms, and he had seen those soft pink lips trembling under his for the first time. He kissed her.
And the next morning, after a long talk with Nani, he put his plan in action. No more hiding, no more skulking behind corners out of sight. Khushi was his wife, and the lady of the house, Mrs. Arnav Singh Raizada. Anjali was his Di. And the two women had to live together in the same house.
So Anjali was informed by a nervous Hari Prakash that her breakfast was on the table, and the family was waiting for her to start. And when Anjali reached the table, she found the whole family seated there ... Nani at the head, Mami, Akash and Payal on one side, Arnav and NK on the other side. Her usual seat on Nani's right was empty, and she slid into it awkwardly with Akash's help.
And then Khushi appeared ... a very nervous, silent Khushi, laden with a plate of pooris, which she placed in front of Nani. That wise lady thanked her with a smile, Arnav stood and pulled out the chair between his and NK's, and helped Khushi into it. He put two pooris on his plate, and another two on hers.
"You made them?" Arnav asked Khushi with a small smile, and she nodded shyly.
He tried one. "They're good. Peethi pooris? I love them. Here, take a bite."
He fed her a small bite of his own poori laden with potato, as the family watched dumbstruck, and Nani beamed at them benignly.
Then Arnav turned to Anjali. "Di, did you take your medicines this morning? You have your monthly check up today, don't you? Do you want Mami to go with you? Or Payal? The driver is waiting for you."
Anjali nodded silently, obviously trying to decide how to react to his words. She spoke slowly, hesitantly.
"You ... Chotey ... I thought you ..."
"It will be better if Mami goes, I think. After all, she's a mother herself. Been through it all ... right, Mami?"
"Yes, I wills goes with Anjali bitiya," said Mami fiercely. She was obviously not very happy with the change in situation. "Phatee Saree and Khoon Bh..."
"Who?" asked Arnav softly. "Who are you talking about, Mami? I don't know these people, do I?"
His voice was soft, but cool. Mami gulped, and shot him a quick look. His face was smiling, but his eyes were as cold as his voice. Nani gave Manorama a warning frown.
"Err, Khoosi bitiya and Payal bahuriya ... they can stay home ... I wills goes with Anjali bitiya."
"Good," said Arnav, still in the same soft tone. He turned to Khushi. "But Khushi, I don't want you to stay home. If you're up to it, come to office. Shuklaji was asking for you ... he needs some help, I think."
"Up to it?" Payal asked quickly. "Why up to it, Arnavji? Is Khushi all right?"
"Yes, I think so," Arnav replied calmly. "But she did get a huge hit on the head when she fell over the cliff, and knocked herself out when she was trying to save me ... and you know her, she never complains. I've been trying to get her to see the doctor, but she keeps putting me off, saying she's all right."
"And what about you?!" Khushi burst out indignantly. "I told you I would see the doctor when you did. Your arms were all bruised, and those cuts ' from that fight ... but you never look after yourself ... or let me ..."
Nani shook her head indulgently, while Mami and Akash looked from Arnav to Khushi in horror.
"Bhai, you never told me ..."
Arnav looked at him coolly.
"What? That I almost lost my life, and she saved me? Well, nobody really asked, and a lot of other shit happened, and we were fortunately all right so ..."
"Yes, but you should have ... Phati saree saved you ...?"
Arnav turned to Mami at that. "No, Mami," he said pleasantly, "My wife, Khushi, saved me. Khushi. . I would not be here if it wasn't for Khushi ... I would be burned to a kabab in a warehouse somewhere in Vasant Vihar. I don't know any Phati saree and I don't care to. Nor any Khoon Bhari Taang ... Khushi, if you're finished, shall we go? Di, the car is waiting for you."
Khushi nodded and rose. The rest watched in silence and almost horrified fascination as Arnav deliberately held Khushi's hand and left the room with her. As they walked to the front door, he bent his head to say something in her ears, and Khushi smiled and blushed and shook her head. He laughed and said in clear tones that carried back to the listening family still seated at the table.
"That's all I wanted, Mrs. Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada. Your smile."
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