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"You never told us where you worked," Pankaj Gupta asked his daughter. Khushi took the tea cup from her mother and sniffed the aroma of tea, ginger and cardamom.
"I missed this," she said sighing deeply after taking a sip. "There are certain things that only a home can provide." There was melancholy in her voice which here parents couldn't recognize.
"You haven't answered my question Khushi," her father pressed. Her mother sat next to her and ran her hands in her daughter's hair.
"I'll get some oil for your hair," Garima said standing up. "It's lost its sheen and strength," she mumbled on her way out. Khushi smiled at her mother's fussiness and sipped tea in silence. She looked up to see her father watching her expectantly. He was still waiting for an answer.
"I did some odd jobs here and there papa." She gave him a woolly response hoping that he would take it.
"You are a civil engineer and a very good one at that." Pankaj said looking at her downcast face. "There are people who still remember for the work you did here Khushi so don't go and patronize me this way by giving me falsified answers," Pankaj's voice was hard and laced with emotion. Khushi nodded.
"I have been traveling in Africa for most part of seven years." She said. Pankaj's eyes widened at that. Garima walked back into the room with a steel cup filled with warm coconut oil. Smiling at her daughter, she loosened the knot and brushed her hair.
Khushi waited till first fistful of oil touched her scalp. She sighed in contentment and basked in her mother's attention. "A society to rise from the ashes of civil war, hate crime, genocide, natural disaster needs much more than doctors, nurses, food and international funding. Do you know what the first problem they face is, papa?" Khushi asked with closed eyes and soaking in the gentle hair massage. Pankaj shook his head. "It's water shortage papa. As needed by all in various degrees, fresh and clean water cannot be enough in these areas. In case of natural disaster a complete reconstruction is required and reconstruction takes time. So they are always in need of civil engineers who can plan and execute water supply, power supply, sewage etc., effectively and efficiently."
"So that's what you were doing?" Pankaj asked feeling bouts of pride in his vein. "Building things?" He added for good measure.
"For most part of seven years I did that. There are many unfortunate people in this world who have gotten into the predicament without their choice. People were killed because they belonged to different race, some died because of famine and many died because of heat wave or political coup. Rebuilding those societies gave me a sense of purpose and contentment in life. You cannot match the satisfaction you get when you see the joy in young boy's face when he sees water coming out of tap in front of his house. His joy comes from the realization that he doesn't have to walk five miles to fetch fresh water for the next day." She said still with her eyes closed. Her parents stilled for moments and watched their daughter who looked almost like a stranger to them.
"What made you come back?" Garima asked massaging her scalp. It wasn't an accusation but a mere curiosity.
"I was reminded of home. There were times when I felt that the situation here in some places isn't all that different from where I was working. When the feeling got too strong to ignore, I packed my bags the next very next day," she said. There was both ease and tension in her voice or may be Pankaj was reading more than necessary. The family grew quiet for several minutes each adjusting to the news and presence of a loved one.
Garima looked at Pankaj and urged him with a tilt of her head to ask the question that's been unasked since the moment Khushi came back. "How long are you going to be here?" Pankaj asked softly. Khushi opened her eyes then.
"I am back for good papa." She closed her eyes again.
Pankaj and Garima exchanged glances.
Arnav paced in his cabin ignoring the file that needed his immediate attention.
"Sir, you are late for-"
"Cancel all my appointments for today Suman," Arnav told his secretary.
"But sir, the lobbyist-"
"Not today Suman," he said stopping pacing and finally turned around. "Please," he added. Suman was an old school friend who had beaten him in every debate competition there was. He admired her intelligence and organization skills. She had been irritated with his job offer - his secretary, when he offered it to her almost a decade ago. But the money and the security he was offering was far larger than she could imagine and she had accepted it.
"What's going on Arnav?" She asked walking into this cabin. When she dropped the 'sir', she had crossed the line they both ensured they never cross. But there were times when it was very much needed.
"Khushi has come back for good. Payal called me," he said.
"So?" She asked staring at him. Arnav looked at her unblinkingly.
"So?" He parroted back.
"Why is it such a big deal?" She asked slowly.
"Because...I..." Arnav stammered. Suman looked on. Arnav sighed. "Look. After she left me at mandap waiting for her to come out of bridal room like a moron, a chain of events occurred which changed all of us. Everything got changed and these changes are far too drastic to be reversed. We are all trying to get on with our lives Suman and then...she comes back to shatter the peace," Arnav answered.
"Maybe even she wants the same thing Arnav, haven't you thought about that?" She asked. Arnav swallowed not acknowledging her words.
"Maybe she has come back in search of peace too."
Music companion: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley
Next Chapter: Chapter 4, Peggy Sue
Joined: 26 August 2012
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