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"I always thought there were two kinds of people in the world' Those who went to their deaths screaming and those who went to their deaths in silence. But then I met the third kind."
Khushi paused, collecting her thoughts. Aarav waited patiently, knowing he would miss out on critical details if he pushed her to talk. She started speaking again, slowly, almost painfully, as though these were memories she did not want to live through again.
"We were not always like this Aarav. There was a time when we were not the happy family that we are today."
Khushi stopped again. She didn't know where to start. There was so much Aarav was unaware of, so much to tell him. Khushi took a deep breath. She would begin with the person who had caused it all, the person who they could not remember without living through the terror of it all.
"Aarav, your Anjali Bua was not always married to Karan. She had a husband before him. That man's name was--"
"Shyam. I know Amma."
Khushi was speechless, a rare occasion for her. "How do you know?" she stuttered.
Aarav desperately wanted to roll his eyes, but he didn't give into the temptation. He knew that would only aggravate his mother and this was a story he wanted to hear. And so he simply answered her, though he was unable to keep out his trademark tongue-in-cheek. "Amma, I have ears. And a brain. Which just so happens to function."
Khushi smiled. Of course. How could she have forgotten? She had underestimated her son's perceptiveness. But there was only so much Aarav knew. He had become a part of their family after it had healed, after it had recovered. Her son had been lucky. But she had not.
Aarav watched the multitude of emotions flit across his mother's expressive face. Humor. Acceptance. Relief. Gratitude. Sorrow. But it was the last emotion, one he had never before seen on her face, which caught his attention. Fear. What was she afraid of? He didn't have to wait long for an answer to his silent question.
"Do you know why your Anjali Bua divorced Shyam?" Khushi did not wait for Aarav's affirmative nod in the negative before continuing. "She divorced him because he was in love with another woman." There was another pause, one that seemed loud in its silence, filled with unspeakable memories of the past. For an instant, Aarav almost regretted broaching the subject, but it was too late now. The floodgates had been loosened and the dam had burst. All he could do now was ride through the storm.
"No.. it was not love." Khushi contradicted herself suddenly, as if only just realizing the truth within that statement. She seemed to have forgotten the presence of her son. It was as if she was talking to herself, finally facing the horror which she had locked away in the recesses of her mind. "I don't know what it was, but it wasn't love. Love is not that selfish. I don't understand what emotion Shyam felt, but it was enough for him to betray Di. He wanted another woman, no matter what the cost. And that other woman was me."
Khushi looked up then, and Aarav almost staggered back. The acute agony in her eyes was an alien emotion to him. He had been sheltered, and this pain was not something he had ever before encountered. His mother seemed to be locked in her own personal hell on earth. He was tempted to just tell her it was ok, she didn't need to do this, but he stopped himself. Some things were better let out, rather than tamped down deep inside. He understood this much and so he let her go on.
"He wanted to marry me. He came to Buaji's house as a paying guest and the way he presented himself' We were all taken in. He was so charming. I should've seen it. He was too charming, too nice. No one is that kind. It was like he didn't have it in him to be cruel. We didn't realize he was already married, and that too to Anjali Di. I agreed to marriage with a man who didn't even understand the sanctity of that bond. And then I found out the truth. I immediately broke off my farce of a relationship with him and I was going to tell Di what her "god-like" husband really was. But how could I? Di was pregnant and I didn't have it in me to break her heart. I thought Shyam would eventually change." Khushi laughed then, a bitter laugh.
"But I was so wrong. He didn't change and things just got worse when he didn't stop pursuing me. I had never experienced such blatant cruelty, such selfish desire. I didn't realize that there could be people like him in this world. I believed in humanity. I was innocent. And he crushed my innocence, my faith. It took me a long time to trust again."
The picture she had painted was not a pretty one. But it was no doubt an intriguing one. Aarav could easily imagine it. His mother: young, beautiful, emanating a happiness true to her name. Shyam was like the dark cloud on the spotless horizon that was his mother's life. It was not hard for Aarav to lose himself in his mother's story. The journey into the past had begun.
*THIS IS ENTIRELY OF MY OWN CREATION. PLEASE DO NOT COPY OR REPRODUCE.*
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